September is Hunger Action Month, and New Jersey’s advocates and legislators have been garnering attention to the plight of the state’s seniors.
According to the National Foundation to End Senior Hunger’s report, The State of Senior Hunger in America 2012, “the fraction of seniors under the threat of hunger increased nearly 30% from 2007-2012.” Unfortunately, the impact of food insecurity among seniors is sometimes downplayed or forgotten. One in six people in the US, including 8.8 million seniors, experience hunger. The effects of food insecurity can contribute to diminished health in older adults and lead to a reduction in their quality of life. Hunger Action Month is an opportunity to shine a spotlight on food insecurity issues facing our seniors and take action to combat hunger in the community.
Not long ago (winter 2013) we witnessed a contentious Congressional debate over reauthorization of the Farm Bill, leading to a significant reduction in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) budget. A federal budget sequester further reduced SNAP spending. Subsequently, some states (Michigan, New Jersey and Wisconsin) have elected to decline monies from the federal government that would have qualified beneficiaries to receive additional food stamps. These actions have been debilitating for many low-income families and seniors who rely on this assistance for basic nutritional support.
Against this background, some elected officials have worked to call attention to the struggle SNAP recipients face. Recently, 18 New Jersey legislators decided to join the state’s Greater MetroWest Food Stamp Challenge to raise awareness and encourage a bi-partisan solution to this issue. The challenge ran from September 8 – 14 and was designed to present each participant with an opportunity to learn what it is like to live on the average daily food stamp benefit. According to a report in New Jersey Jewish News, Senator Lesniak (D) lasted half a day and “busted” his budget to buy coffee. Assemblywoman Munoz (R) learned how challenging it can be to shop—she considered buying a rotisserie chicken which was less expensive than raw chicken but realized that SNAP rules preclude the purchase of “hot food and any food sold for on-premises consumption” and therefore she could not choose the more financially feasible option. The Assemblywoman reportedly said, “We have to get that rule changed.”
Although September is designated as Hunger Action Month by Feeding America, senior food insecurity occurs throughout the year. In January 2014, WOW partner New Jersey Foundation for Aging (NJFA) aired a 30-minute interview with a local food advocate and food bank service provider on its cable television program, Aging Insights. The interview focused on food and nutrition benefits for seniors. NJFA Program Manager Melissa Chalker and her guests addressed issues such as lengthy wait times between being approved for SNAP and actually receiving benefits, along with good nutrition and healthy eating.
WOW’s research suggests that, other than through housing subsidies, the largest decreases in senior economic insecurity can be achieved through participation in SNAP, congregate meals and other nutrition assistance programs. Currently, WOW is working under a grant from The Henry and Marilyn Taub Foundation to identify local and non-local causes of senior food insecurity in New Jersey’s Bergen and Passaic Counties. WOW will convene local partners and service providers to identify changes needed in both policy and practice, as well as potential additional advocacy efforts.
As we approach the end of Hunger Action Month, WOW joins friends and allies across the country in reminding everyone to keep the nation focused on reducing hunger, and to use the hashtag #getSNAP to tweet about the Hunger Action Month campaign.