AARP Eye Center
The federal farm bill may sound like it’s all about sows, cows, and plows, but most of the large measure concerns nutrition. Congress will again reauthorize the farm bill in 2023, providing an opportunity to make changes to nutrition programs, and for advocates to speak up.
Older Texans should be interested in several of these programs, namely SNAP, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which provides a monthly food benefit in the form of funds added to the Lone Star Card. Depending on a person’s household income and size, this benefit can be up to several hundred dollars. SNAP dollars are spent in local retailers and allow a beneficiary to choose the food that is appropriate for their diet and cultural preferences.
Besides SNAP, three other programs in the farm bill benefit older Texans. They include the Emergency Food Assistance Program, the Commodity Supplemental Food Program, and the Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program. The Emergency Food Assistance Program or TEFAP provides nutritious foods such as fresh produce, frozen protein, and grains for distribution at food pantries and soup kitchens. The Commodity Supplemental Food Program provides food boxes of shelf-stable food for income-eligible seniors. Finally, the Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program provides vouchers that older Texans can use at participating farmers' markets.
All of these programs make an impact in addressing senior hunger, but none as significant as SNAP. SNAP has been shown to reduce food insecurity by 30 percent and has been one of the most successful programs at reducing poverty. Additionally, hunger is an issue that has significant consequences for older Texans. Those facing hunger have lower nutrient intakes and are at greater risk for chronic health conditions, such as diabetes and asthma. Hungry older Texans also suffer from lower cognitive function and increased depression. In many cases, hunger is a hidden condition among older adults, so it is even more important for food assistance to be readily available to them.
Because of its large price tag, SNAP is often in the crosshairs of some members of Congress. There is a misconception among some that SNAP is rife with fraud, waste, and abuse, and that eligibility for the program needs to be limited. Additionally, with the pandemic and the rise in inflation, SNAP spending has recently risen. Therefore, amid discussions on the debt ceiling, some in Congress have proposed changes to SNAP that could significantly limit access to the program. This includes increasing work requirements, expanding the age limit for those work requirements, or cutting funding.
Whether it’s in Washington or Austin, AARP will continue to fight for the nutritional needs of older Texans and their families.