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Arkansas Lowers Food-Insecurity Rate Among Seniors

A new study shows that fewer Arkansas seniors are missing meals because they can't afford them. (TimBoyle/GettyImages)
A new study shows that fewer Arkansas seniors are missing meals because they can't afford them. (TimBoyle/GettyImages)
August 23, 2017

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. - Arkansas once had the highest rate of senior hunger in the country, but a new study says that is changing.

The rate of Arkansans age 60 and older who report they don't always have enough food has fallen from 25 percent to less than 20 percent. A coalition began working on the issue in 2014, from the state Department of Human Services to six Feeding America food banks and the Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance.

Nancy Conley, the alliance's communications director, said they focused on getting people signed up for food-assistance programs such as SNAP, also known as food stamps.

"We developed a department for SNAP outreach, and we have volunteers that go to those places where seniors frequent and help them understand that signing up for SNAP could make the difference," she said. "And, it apparently has worked."

A study of senior hunger in America that was released this month found that nationally, almost 10 million people age 60 and older face the threat on hunger on a regular basis - a number that has increased more than a third since 2001. The study said members of minority groups in southern states are most at risk.

Conley said her group's volunteers have found that seniors often aren't sure whether they're eligible for food assistance.

"Many seniors are too proud to apply for food assistance. Many of them think that they don't qualify," she said. "They don't understand that they can have a house, they can have a car and they can still qualify. They all assume that they are too well off."

She said older Arkansans who still are working, often at menial jobs, are vulnerable until they become eligible for retirement-related benefits.

"The seniors who are most at risk are those who are 50 to 69," she said. "They are younger seniors who don't qualify yet for Medicare or housing assistance, or utility assistance."

Conley added that caring for grandchildren becomes a major factor for some.

"We have found that probably half of the seniors in Arkansas who are receiving SNAP benefits are raising grandchildren," she said. "So, that does put a lot of stress on incomes that just don't have anywhere to go."

Conley said poverty is the main driver of food insecurity in Arkansas, particularly among seniors. She said she believes lawmakers need to expand, rather than continually cut, benefit programs and require employers to pay a living wage.

The report is online at arhungeralliance.org.

Mark Richardson, Public News Service - AR