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Senior Hunger Advocacy Update

by Aida C. Idiaquez, Public Benefits & External Relations, Cuyahoga Job and Family Services and Maridell Couture, Advocacy Coordinator, Cuyahoga County Division of Senior and Adult Services 

Senior Hunger: An Overview

A man handing a plastic bag full of onions to a woman.Seniors remain vulnerable to hunger when they cannot easily access food or have a limited income that results in eating food of poor nutritional value simply because it’s the most affordable. Sometimes referred to as “food insecurity,” an increasing number of seniors face a daily reality of impending malnutrition. The consequences are significant—with increased rates of chronic illness, like diabetes, depression and heart disease—and an inability to live healthily and safely in one’s home. Adequate food and nutrition are essential for older adults to manage chronic health conditions and avoid premature nursing home placement. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) helps to keep food on the table.

SNAP Overview

SNAP is a food assistance program formerly known as “food stamps.” It helps older adults buy groceries, allowing a greater share of income to be used for other life SNAP Logonecessities, like medication, transportation or housing. Many older Ohioans don’t know about or use the benefit, with only 40 percent of older adults, age 60 and older, participating. It’s estimated that 264,000 seniors in Ohio are eligible but aren’t receiving SNAP benefits. Criteria for eligibility are assessed upon application, and include housing status, income, assets and disability. Oftentimes, people who are eligible do not apply, due to a lack of understanding about the program. A common misperception is that the monthly benefit is only $15—when the average senior benefit is $115—according to a recent report by the Center for Community Solutions.

Nationally

Nationally, older adults’ participation in SNAP is extremely low with about 3.37 million older adults enrolled. This represents only two-fifths of the eligible population; three out of five seniors, an estimated 5.2 million people, are missing out on benefits.

Many SNAP recipients are socially isolated, with roughly 80 percent living alone. More than half of these depend on Social Security Income, general assistance or other benefits. The national average of $1,428 in annual SNAP benefits can mean the difference between having food or going without.1

Ohio

Ohio is among the ten worst states for hunger among older adults. More than one in six older adults—18 percent of those 60 and older—face hunger. Close to one-half million (457,000) Ohioans over age 60 are “marginally to severely” food insecure and must make choices between purchasing medications or food.

The State provides $221 million per year to Ohio senior households through the SNAP program. Additionally, the State receives a little over $30 million annually for senior nutrition programs through Title III of the Older Americans Act, which goes to provide home delivered meals to elders.2

Cuyahoga County

Over the past five years, there was a 19.9 percent increase in SNAP usage for adults 60 and older in Cuyahoga County. Over that same five years, nearly all Cuyahoga County communities have seen at least a modest increase in SNAP food assistance. Twenty-nine of the county’s 51 zip codes (57 percent) showed an increase of 20 percent during that time.3

The 10 zip codes that showed the highest increases in the last five years were: 4
 44119  Cleveland   57.0% 
 44147  Broadview Heights  51.0%
 44123  Euclid  49.7%
 44135  Cleveland  47.7%
 44142  Brook Park  45.2%
 44129  Parma  44.2%
 44132  Euclid  40.8%
 44017  Berea  38.2%
 44138  Olmsted Falls  36.9%
 44116  Rocky River  35.8%

 

What Can Be Done?

If you suspect an older adult in Cuyahoga County may be food insecure, you can help them learn more or apply for SNAP by sharing the following resources available through Cuyahoga Job and Family Services:

Online: Application can be made online through the Ohio Benefits web portal www.benefits.ohio.gov or in person.

Phone: Seniors can call the Contact Center at 1-844-640-OHIO (6446) for real-time eligibility and case changes Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. - 4 p.m.

For questions regarding SNAP benefits or other services for older adults please call the Cuyahoga County Division of Senior and Adult Services centralized intake line at 216-420-6700.

In Person: Applications are available at any of the County’s Neighborhood Family Service Centers. An application can be completed on-site, hand-delivered or mailed to any of the County’s service centers. 

Partnering in Change

The County’s Job and Family Services and Division of Senior and Adult Services are partnering with community groups to tackle food insecurity among seniors and adults with disabilities. This community collaboration has resulted in targeted marketing, community education, and tangible changes to make accessing SNAP easier. We are working together to help seniors access the benefits they need.


Annotations:

1 Source: National Council on Aging – SNAP Shots
2 Source: The Center for Community Solutions 2017
3 Source: The Center for Community Solutions 2017
4 Source: Ohio Department of Job and Family Services