Food and Nutrition Assistance Programs


According to a 2015 research study from AARP Foundation, approximately 10 million adults over the age of 50 struggle with food insecurity.

Food insecurity has significant negative impacts on older adults, particularly on their health; older adults struggling with food insecurity are over twice as likely to report being in poor health. Compared with food-secure seniors, those facing food insecurity are 53 percent more likely to die of a heart attack, 40 percent more likely to have congestive heart failure, 22 percent more likely to face limitations of activities of daily livingActivities of daily living (ADLs) include: bathing or showering, dressing, getting in and out of bed or a chair, walking, using the toilet, and eating. (ADLs), and 60 percent more likely to suffer from depression.

Food and nutrition assistance can take a variety of forms including vouchers for the purchase of food, commodities distributed at soup kitchens and food banks, and food packages. In addition to addressing food insecurity, any federal food assistance program focus on improving access to nutritious food.

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program ( SNAPSupplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) SNAP provides a monthly supplement for purchasing nutritious food. If you qualify, you’ll get a debit card to use for groceries. Also commonly called Food Stamps. ) is the nation’s largest domestic nutrition assistance program. It provides financial assistance to families to purchase qualifying food items. Benefits are relatively low: the average monthly benefit was about $126 per person in fiscal year 2016. Households with an individual over age 60 represented 19 percent of all SNAP recipients in FY 2014. SNAP participation among eligible older adults had grown significantly over the past 5 years, increasing from 33% in FY 2010 to 42% in FY 2014. However their participation rate is less than half the participation rate of eligible adults age 18–59.

Four programs provide assistance to food-insecure older adults with specific needs that may not be met by SNAP:

  • Through The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP), the federal government supplies states with food that can be distributed to low-income people, including elderly people, at no cost. States arrange for the food to be transported to centers such as soup kitchens and food banks.
  • The Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP) is available in participating states to low-income people age 60 and older. Each month CSFP participants receive a nutritionally balanced food package valued at about $25.
  • The Senior Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program (SFMNP) provides grants to states to provide fresh produce to low-income older adults through coupons or vouchers to be used at farmers markets or Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) operations. The average value of the coupons or vouchers is $31.
  • The Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) provides cash subsidies to child-care and family day-care centers, and non-residential adult-care centers similar to the National School Lunch Program and Summer Food Service Program. While the program primarily serves children, in FY 2015 73.3 million meals were served to adults with disabilities or over the age of 60 in non-residential care centers. Low-income people can qualify for free or reduced price meals.

The Elderly Simplified Application Project (ESAP) is a USDA demonstration project that has worked to simplify applications for households with a member who is 60 or older (i.e., shorten them to two pages), reconfigure or eliminate interviews, and lengthen recertification periods for SNAP benefits up to 36 months. Making it easier for eligible older adults to receive and keep their benefits is beneficial and promotes participation.

Food and Nutrition Assistance Programs: Policy

Benefits and eligibility

In this policy: FederalState

Food benefits should be increased and eligibility expanded to ensure nutritional adequacy and prevention of malnutrition for the most vulnerable Americans, including those who have limited or no capacity to buy, prepare and store food. Congress should fund food and nutrition programs so that all states can participate.

The USDA should revise the TFP to account more accurately for the actual food costs borne by low-income households. {Relevant background: The maximum monthly food benefit is based on a low-cost diet plan called the Thrifty Food Plan (TFP). Unfortunately, the TFP has been artificially constrained to reduce its cost. It was intended to pertain only to very short-run, emergency rations and is not based on realistic assumptions about food-preparation time and consumption patterns. Thus food assistance benefit levels are lower than actual food costs for nearly all low-income households.}

Federal and state governments should raise minimum benefits for eligible older adults. {Relevant background: The minimum benefit is $16 for one- and two-person households, though some states and the District of Columbia supplement the benefits to provide higher minimum benefits.}

States should undertake program reforms to expand SNAPSupplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) SNAP provides a monthly supplement for purchasing nutritious food. If you qualify, you’ll get a debit card to use for groceries. Also commonly called Food Stamps. eligibility for low-income older households, such as eliminating asset tests for low-income older households

The SNAP Restaurant Meals Program should be continued. Eligibility for the program should not expand beyond the vulnerable groups identified in the statute: older adults, people with disabilities, and homeless people. {Relevant background: Since 1977 states have had the option to implement a SNAP Restaurant Meals Program to allow enrollees who are older adults, homeless, or people with disabilities to buy food at restaurants certified by the USDA. As of December 2013, a handful of states were operating state SNAP restaurant programs or pilot programs.}

Extended familes

In this policy: FederalState

SNAPSupplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) SNAP provides a monthly supplement for purchasing nutritious food. If you qualify, you’ll get a debit card to use for groceries. Also commonly called Food Stamps. regulations defining “households” should be clarified to make it easier for extended families to qualify for and receive adequate benefits (i.e. when an older individual who is eligible for SNAP resides part-time with a caregiver who is not, or when a child who is eligible lives part-time with an older adult who is not).

Technology for delivering benefits

In this policy: FederalState

Congress and the USDA should ensure that states implement their EBT programs in such a way that they do not call undue attention to or stigmatize users and that they otherwise do not adversely affect the use of EBT cards for needed services.

Congress and the USDA should ensure that methods for delivering food benefits keep up with technological developments and transformations in the retail environment. New methods for delivering benefits must maintain strong consumer protections.

Recipients of food benefits should have broad access to EBT terminals and should be able to use mobile payment platforms.

Congress and the USDA should consider expanding the definition of “retail food store” to include e-commerce companies that deliver qualifying foods, while protecting program integrity.

Outreach and education

In this policy: FederalState

Food and nutrition programs should have adequate funding to engage in robust outreach efforts that ensure that older adults and organizations that serve them are aware of available programs and have adequate information to make an informed choice regarding their ability to successfully apply for food assistance benefits.

States should take advantage of the Hunger Prevention Act of 1988, which provides matching funds to states that have food assistance outreach programs for low-income families.

Found in Food and Nutrition Assistance Programs