Stretching the Dollars in Nutrition Budgets of Our Senior Loved Ones

Many seniors need additional help to make ends meet when they face the rising cost of living on a fixed income.

Their costs for health care, housing and medications could be squeezing their budget to the point of breaking leaving too little money for food.

Do your senior loved ones face this? Would they let you know if they did?

The consequences of financial instability and limited grocery buying power for many seniors trying to age in place is poor nutrition – – for some, even malnutrition.

It is estimated that in 2013 there were 5.4 million seniors over the age of 60 who were food insecure in America – they were hungry and had limited access to nourishing food. Food insecurity also encompasses a senior’s ability to have the resources they need to purchase, prepare or consume adequate nutrition.

AARP puts the number of seniors at risk for hunger at 10 million.

Seniors who are food insecure are at risk for chronic health problems, including depression, heart attack, and congestive heart failure, among others. Not eating right also leads to sarcopenia or muscle loss, which can result in an inability to age in place due to frequent falls and safety concerns.

Supplemental Nutrition Assistance

In order to help seniors stay healthy, the federal government created the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) as a way to make it possible for seniors to stretch their limited budgets and purchase food.

Food can be obtained from the local supermarket, farmer’s market, convenience stores and co-op food programs. There is something new on the horizon — home delivered meals may soon also be covered.

SNAP benefits are paid monthly on a card called an electronic benefits transfer, or EBT, card. It works like a debit card with the total of each purchase deducted from the month’s allotment.

You can check your senior’s eligibility for SNAP benefits (and other government assistance programs) via the site or by using this confidential calculator.

Your senior could be eligible for SNAP benefits if they are collecting a pension or Social Security.  A variety of factors are taken into consideration when determining eligibility including healthcare costs. They can own their own home, live with family or in subsidized housing. IRA, savings and assets including their house are not counted in the eligibility process.

Applying for SNAP

Your senior can apply via a telephone interview or in person beginning at age 60. Here is a SNAP Local Office Locator that can help you find the closest office.

Each state has its own application form, office and hotline number. Here is a locator for hotline numbers to call which are toll-free. Many states also take your application online.

Depending on your senior’s state, you may need these documents:

  • Driver’s license or state ID cared
  • Birth certificate
  • Pay stubs
  • Agency letter for funds your senior may be receiving such as Social Security or VA benefits
  • Mortgage statement or rental agreement
  • Utility bill
  • Cancelled check if your senior supports a child
  • Medical bills

Using Benefits for Nutrition

Once your senior has been deemed eligible and receives their EBT card, it is time to go shopping!

There is a store locator that will help you learn which stores accept the EBT card nearest your senior.

Help your senior make healthy food choices to make the most of their SNAP benefits. It is helpful to buy with grocery sales to make their money goes as far as possible.

Purchase fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grain items and other healthy food items so that senior’s can stay healthy and strong.

SNAP benefits cover –

  • Bread
  • Cereal
  • Fruit
  • Vegetables
  • Meat
  • Fish
  • Poultry
  • Dairy products
  • Energy drinks with a nutrition fact label (not a supplement fact label)
  • Plants and seeds to grow your own

SNAP benefits don’t cover –

  • Alcohol
  • Tobacco
  • Pet food
  • Soap and grooming items
  • Paper goods
  • Vitamins or minerals
  • Medication
  • Hot food (coming soon: home delivered meals!)

You and your senior can attend classes in nutrition, meal preparation, stretching your food budget and shopping from the SNAP-Ed nutrition education classes near you. Some ‘junk foods’ are eligible for purchase with your senior’s EBT card but are not healthy choices. You and your senior are encouraged to use your benefit for the healthiest food possible.

Your senior can designate someone to shop for them using their EBT by completing the Authorized Representative Form.

Once obtained, the benefits will be in place for two years without needing to update your senior’s information.

Caregivers Can Help

Family caregivers can help their seniors access and use their SNAP benefits.

You can help them overcome the two chief barriers many seniors find to enroll in SNAP.

  1. Lack of knowledge about the program and how it can help them. Many seniors and their families are not aware that this program exists. Some, who may know about the program, have heard that the benefits received are too low to bother applying. This is not always the case however and even a small benefit is worth the effort when seniors health is in the balance. Getting benefits for your senior will not reduce the benefits others receive. You won’t know if your senior qualifies until you apply.
  2. Difficulty faced when trying to enroll. Some who may have tried to connect their senior loved one with benefits found that the customer service attitude was a barrier. Many found it hard or felt uncomfortable with the process. As with any government program with forms and red tape, try again until you are able to access benefits to which your senior is entitled.

Other Ways to Address Senior Hunger

There are also other ways to connect your senior to healthy food that you can initiate if they are having trouble financially.

There are local congregate meal programs as part of the Area Agency on Aging that provide meals and socialization at the senior center.

You can investigate having home delivered meals sent to your senior loved one.

You can enlist friends and family in sharing a meal a week that they cook for or with your senior loved one or have them take your senior out to dine. Not only will nutrition get a boost, but also their social engagement.

Being sure your senior puts health and well-being first and helping them make good nutrition a reality will enable them to have an improved quality of life as they age in place.