Norman Harvel faces mounting debt accrued from medical procedures and medicines for him and his late wife and he is considering filing bankruptcy. He is shown at home in Dundalk, Maryland, on May 9, 2012. Credit: Karl Merton Ferron | MCT

The economy may be improving, but it is not improving enough to meet the needs of America’s seniors. That’s the inference from a recent report from Feeding America, “Baby Boomers and Beyond: Facing Hunger After Fifty.”

The report analyzed and summarized data from the Hunger in America 2014 dataset. This dataset covers those who utilize America’s food bank system and nutritional assistance programs. The Feeding America report focused on the challenges of those that are 50 years old and above.

Note: For purposes of this report, the term “seniors” refers to those aged 60 or above, as it is the change point in eligibility for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and the threshold for the Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP) and Senior Farmer’s Market Nutrition Program (SFMNP).

The report paints a picture of significant need. Around 13 million adults aged fifty and above use the Feeding America network. Approximately 64 percent of that population plans to get food from charitable programs regularly and 81 percent consider their household as “food-insecure.”

This level of food insecurity leads to unpleasant decisions for many seniors each year. Older adult households that use food assistance programs have to decide between food and other essentials at some point during the year.

A whopping 63 percent of that population has to choose between paying for food and medical care — and for the older population, medical costs are no trivial matter. The report points out that healthcare costs are around three to five times higher for those aged 65 and above as compared to younger adults. Many of the older population seeking food assistance have difficulty maintaining healthy lifestyles and thus have more ailments. Seventy percent of households with older members reported having a member with high blood pressure, and 41 percent had a member with diabetes.

Decisions between food and other essentials were also cited. Sixty percent were forced to choose between food and utility bills, 58 percent between food and transportation, and 49 percent between food and housing.

Multi-generational households in the food-assistance population are particularly hard hit, as fewer workers support more household members. Almost 20 percent of the older adult households receiving food assistance included a grandchild. Of those families, 77 percent live in poverty and 88 percent are considered food insecure.

How do multi-generational households cope with food insecurity?

Seventy-seven percent of the older adult households buy the cheapest food available and 38 percent say they dilute their food or drink supplies to make them last longer. Forty-six percent of the respondents relied on assistance from family and friends to fill the gap.

Even with their needs, households with older adults are not as likely to receive SNAP benefits or even to apply for them. Only 52 percent of the food assistance clients receive SNAP benefits, but 66 percent of the households not participating have a low enough income to qualify for the program. It could be a matter of pride with older Americans, or simply a lack of understanding of all the benefits available.

The Feeding America report emphasizes that with an aging population, it is important to strengthen the available resources for older food-insecure Americans and help them to understand and take advantage of all the benefits that are available.

As the economy improves, we hope that the need for food bank assistance will decrease across America. In the meantime, consider supporting your local food bank in whatever way you can. It’s the caring thing to do — and remember that someday you could be the one needing their services.

The full report summary may be found here.

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