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SNAP Supports Seniors’ Health

A Senate Special Committee on Aging hearing on proper nutrition and seniors’ health highlighted the risk of malnutrition and poor health among older adults and their links to limited access to nutritious food. Many seniors are food insecure, meaning that they have problems affording nutritious, adequate food. In yesterday’s hearing, senators and witnesses repeatedly pointed to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) as an important support for seniors who have few resources.

Poor seniors are particularly vulnerable to the consequences of food insecurity, such as hunger, poor dietary quality, and adverse health outcomes such as depression and other chronic illnesses. SNAP helps 4.8 million seniors meet their daily food needs, protecting them from food insecurity’s risks. SNAP’s key benefits for seniors include:

Helping many low-income households with seniors afford adequate food. About 28 percent (nearly 3 million) of all U.S. households with an elderly individual were food insecure in 2015, a share that remains above pre-recession levels. Food insecurity rates are higher for low-income households – 1 in 4 such households had difficulty affording nutritious food in 2015. SNAP benefits help alleviate these struggling households’ food insecurity.

Supplementing low-income seniors’ income. SNAP benefits provide an important income supplement to nearly 5 million seniors. Most are poor, as 71 percent of SNAP households with an elderly member have incomes below the poverty line. The typical U.S. household with an elderly member received $128 in benefits each month in 2015, boosting its income by 14 percent.

Letting seniors shift resources toward other necessities. Many seniors live on fixed incomes. 6.3 million seniors live below the poverty level and face the stressful prospect of choosing between necessities such as food or health care. SNAP benefits modestly increase their resources to ease these burdens.

Trends indicate that SNAP’s role in mitigating hunger and poverty among seniors will become even more important in the future. The number of poor seniors has grown by over a quarter since 2007. With nearly twice as many middle-aged poor people as poor seniors, the number of low-income seniors receiving SNAP benefits will likely continue to grow as baby boomers age.