Dear Savvy Senior: I would like to find out if my 73-year-old aunt is eligible for food stamps or any other type of food assistance program. It seems that she has a difficult time affording enough food each month, and I would like to help if I can. What can you tell me? — Searching Niece
Dear Searching: Sadly, millions of older Americans, like your aunt, struggle with food costs. According to a recent study by Feeding America, 5.5 million U.S. seniors age 60 and older are food insecure. Fortunately, there are several programs that may be able to help. Here’s what you should know.
While there are millions of seniors who are eligible for food stamps, less than 40% actually take advantage of this benefit. Food stamps are now referred to as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP. However, your state might use a different name.
For seniors to get SNAP, their net income must be under the 100% federal poverty guidelines. So, for households that have at least one person age 60 and older, or disabled, their net monthly income must be less than $1,199 per month for an individual or $1,622 for a family of two. Households receiving TANF or SSI are also eligible.
Net income is figured by taking gross income minus allowable deductions including a standard monthly deduction, medical expenses that exceed $35 per month out-of-pocket, and shelter expenses (rent or mortgage payments, taxes and utility costs) that exceeds half of the household’s income.
In addition to the net income requirement, a few states also require that a senior’s assets be below $3,500, not counting their home, retirement or pension plans, income from SSI or TANF, and vehicle (this varies by state). Most states, however, have much higher asset limits or they don’t count assets at all when determining eligibility.
To apply, seniors or an authorized representative will need to fill out a state application form, which can be done at the local SNAP office, or it can be mailed or faxed in. In many states it can be completed online.
If eligible, benefits will be provided on a plastic card that’s used like a debit card and accepted at most grocery stores. The average SNAP benefit for 60-and-older households is around $125 per month.
To learn more or apply, contact your local SNAP office — call 800-221-5689 for contact information or visit fns.usda.gov/snap.
In addition to SNAP, there are other federal programs that can help low-income seniors, age 60 and older, like the Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP) and the Senior Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program (SFMNP).
The CSFP (see fns.usda.gov/csfp) is a program that provides supplemental food packages to seniors with income limits at or below the 130% poverty line.
And the SFMNP (fns.usda.gov/sfmnp) provides seniors coupons that can be exchanged for fresh fruits and vegetables at farmers markets, roadside stands and community- supported agriculture programs in select locations throughout the U.S. To be eligible, your aunt’s income must be below the 185% poverty level.
There are also many Feeding America network food banks that host “Senior Grocery Programs” that provide free groceries to older adults, no strings attached. Contact your local food bank (see feedingamerica.org/find-your-local-foodbank) to find out whether a program is available nearby.
In addition to the food assistance programs, there are also various financial assistance programs that might help your aunt pay for medications, health care, utilities and more. To locate these programs and learn how to apply for them, go to BenefitsCheckUp.org.
Jim Miller is a contributor to NBC-TV’s “Today” program and author of “The Savvy Senior.” Send your questions to Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070; or visit savvysenior.org.