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Food Insecurity for Seniors Remains High, Despite Economy

In 2017, 7.7% of American seniors were at risk of going hungry. (Feeding America)
In 2017, 7.7% of American seniors were at risk of going hungry. (Feeding America)
May 30, 2019

CHARLESTON, W. Va. – Despite a strong economy, the number of seniors at risk of going hungry remains stubbornly high.

According to a new report from Feeding America, 5.5 million U.S. seniors were food insecure in 2017 – and the percentage who are missing meals has remained near the same level since the start of the Great Recession.

Amy Crumbaugh, director of population studies for the organization Feeding America, said the research indicates the total number of older folks is rising.

But more important, she said, may be the fact that many seniors don't benefit from low unemployment.

As Crumbaugh explained, "People are doing better because they're able to get back to work. And if you're not within the labor market because you're a senior and you're retired, you're not going to get the benefit from that opportunity."

Crumbaugh said more seniors could get federal food assistance, but they are "under-utilizing" the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps.

She called SNAP a "very effective, very efficient" program that does a huge amount to reduce hunger. However, she noted that some people face practical barriers that keep them from applying for or using the benefits.

Crumbaugh added some might also feel too ashamed to admit they go hungry.

"They've worked their whole lives, they've raised families, and so it's hard," she explained. "And I think they feel a stigma around raising their hand and saying, 'Hey, I don't always have enough to eat.' Or, 'Sometimes I go without so that my grandchild can eat.'"

The group found more than 9% of West Virginia seniors are considered food insecure. The national average is 7.7%, with West Virginia ranking 41st out of 51.

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - WV