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Some Maine Seniors Go Hungry When They Could Get Help

Fresh berries might be a luxury on a senior's fixed income. Maine has the 12th highest senior food insecurity rate in the nation. (Madison Inouye/Pexels)
Fresh berries might be a luxury on a senior's fixed income. Maine has the 12th highest senior food insecurity rate in the nation. (Madison Inouye/Pexels)
July 23, 2018

BANGOR, Maine – Maine has more older residents than any other New England state, and the highest level of food insecurity in this part of the country among people age 60 and over, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

More than 100,000 Maine seniors aren't always sure where their next meal will come from, or face hunger as a daily concern.

While one-quarter of all SNAP or federal food assistance dollars goes to seniors in the state, about 70 percent of older Mainers who qualify don't receive these benefits.

Jane Margesson, communications director at AARP Maine, says many factors contribute to decisions not to enroll in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

"There can be a stigma about food insecurity, and that's certainly one of the barriers,” she states. “There can be some confusion over the eligibility requirements and how to apply. Some complain of a burdensome application process. And some honestly don't know that the program exists."

Last week, the U.S. Senate passed a Farm Bill that protects SNAP for five more years. It is expected to move to a conference committee this week, and then to the president's desk before the program expires at the end of September.

Margesson says hunger in Maine is often rooted in health and financial insecurity, when people haven't been able to save enough for their retirement years. She adds this is especially true of women, who spend on average 12 of their working years caring for older family members or young children – often at the same time.

"And they're losing a large chunk of time where they could be working and putting money towards retirement, and then finding that they cannot do that,” Margesson points out. “And that's why there's also this strain on Social Security – in many cases, the only source of income for individuals who are 65 and older who are beneficiaries of the program."

SNAP has grown from a pilot program that served just 500,000 Americans in 1964 to serving more than 43 million Americans now.

In Maine, of the 180,000 SNAP recipients, more than 60 percent are in families with children.

Linda Barr, Public News Service - ME