AARP Eye Center
Roughly one of every 12 Texans over the age of 60 – or 8.5 percent of the state’s 60+ population – faces food insecurity, according to a new report that shows that Texas is one of the 10 states with the highest senior food insecurity rates. The findings come from the April 2023 “The State of Senior Hunger in America in 2021” report by Feeding America, the nation’s largest hunger-relief organization, and presents 2021 data from the Current Population Survey. 2021 is the most recent year for which data are available.
Many seniors are on a fixed income after retirement. It can be difficult to afford housing, healthcare, utilities, and groceries, especially since record inflation has made budgets tighter. Nutrition plays a strong role in overall health, especially for older adults who are at increased risk for chronic diseases. A nutritious diet is a key part of preventing and managing many chronic illnesses.
The nation’s largest hunger program is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP. SNAP benefits are distributed to households through funds on a Lone Star Card and can be used on any groceries. This gives SNAP recipients the choice of what foods suit their diet and lifestyle. If all members of a household are over 60, the household can apply for SNAP through the Texas Simplified Application Project, which is a shorter application that needs to be renewed less frequently.
Other assistance programs are available. The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) allows eligible households to receive groceries and prepared meals from organizations like food banks and soup kitchens. In 2022, Texas received about $91 million worth of food through federal TEFAP funding. The Senior Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program helps low-income seniors consume more fruits and vegetables by giving them vouchers to use at farmers’ markets. It also supports local farmers by boosting their sales. $85,000 worth of vouchers were redeemed at Texas farmers’ markets in 2022, according to the Texas Department of Agriculture.
Food assistance programs can be a lifeline for seniors who struggle with hunger. However, many seniors who are eligible for these programs do not participate, due to a variety of barriers and stigmas. Some people don’t know how to apply for food assistance and may feel overwhelmed by the unknown process. There is also significant stigma or shame about taking help from public assistance programs.
“It is important that we remove the barriers related to older Texans accessing food assistance,” said Kathy Green, AARP Texas’ director of state and federal strategy. “Stigma, or anything else, shouldn’t prevent a person from being able to eat.”
According to the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, about 700,000 Texans over 50 were enrolled in SNAP in March of 2023. Unfortunately, this is only about 46 percent of older Texans who are eligible for SNAP. This means that many seniors who could benefit from SNAP are not receiving assistance they need.
If you or someone you know is facing hunger, there are resources to help. YourTexasBenefits.com is the best way to get more information about nutrition assistance programs including SNAP, TEFAP, and the Senior Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program. You can fill out a screening to see which programs you or a loved one may be eligible for and apply for benefits online.