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September 2014
In this Issue:
Senior News - Main Page
SNAP Benefits Put Food on the Table
DFTA Mourns Passing of Senior Advisory Committee Chair
Growing, Connecting and Having Fun through Art
"Stylin' Seniors" A Facebook Hit
The Brooklyn Public Library Beckons Seniors
Where the Action is: Senior Programs Liven It Up
SNAP Benefit Puts Food on the Table

Hunger among the nation’s seniors is a growing concern. Yet the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is under-utilized by older persons. Formerly known as Food Stamps, SNAP provides monthly benefits for low-income people of all ages to buy groceries of their choice at participating food stores and farmers markets.

Nationwide, senior citizens have a lower sign-up rate for SNAP benefits than any other age group. Only a third of eligible seniors take part in the program according to 2012 data from the National Council on Aging. In NYC, less than half of eligible seniors receive help from SNAP. As many as 500.000 older New Yorkers go hungry each month for lack of money to buy groceries, despite the existence of a safety net program that could put food on their tables.

Eligibility requirements for SNAP are more generous for senior citizens and disabled persons than for others. Individuals 65 and older who are living alone with a net monthly income of $1,915 can receive benefits. A two-person household with an elderly or disabled person and an annual income of $31,020 also qualifies for benefits. In addition, applicants can claim a number of exemptions that can increase the amount they receive, e.g. medical expenses in excess of $35 a month. Unfortunately, many potential applicants believe that they will only qualify for the minimum amount of $16 per month. In fact, according to the website Hunger Solutions, the average monthly SNAP benefit for households with an older adult in New York City is $180 a month.

There are a number of reasons why seniors don’t apply for SNAP, according to an AARP Foundation report. It appears that many eligible seniors don’t even know that the program exists. Among those who know about it, some are too embarrassed or too proud to apply, while others think that if they receive SNAP they will take food benefits away from others, especially children. The misperception that the application process is too difficult also contributes to its under-utilization.

To overcome these barriers, the government updated and streamlined the program. SNAP recipients no longer receive food stamps, but instead are issued debit cards called EBT cards (Electronic Benefits Transfer) that are easy to use and look like credit cards. An account is automatically set up for each card and every month benefits are automatically deposited into these accounts. Eligibility criteria have eased also. New York State now allows applicants to have more money in a checking or savings account without affecting their eligibility and they no longer have to pass a savings/resource test in order to receive SNAP benefits. Recertification is easier, too. It can be done over the telephone.

Raising awareness among older persons about SNAP benefits is a major priority for New York City government under Mayor de Blasio. The Department for the Aging (DFTA) is heading a workgroup of city agencies and other stakeholders to improve outreach and increase enrollment. This new initiative complements ongoing efforts by AARP and the Council of Senior Centers and Services to educate, screen and assist older adults with SNAP enrollment.

It’s time more seniors who might be eligible apply for SNAP. If you or someone who know needs SNAP, call 311 or visit the SNAP program on-line.

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