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Stigma, Sacrifice Perpetuate Food Insecurity for Many Senior Arkansans

Only 42% (2-in-5) eligible seniors nationwide participate in SNAP, according to data from the Food Research and Action Network. (Adobe Stock)
Only 42% (2-in-5) eligible seniors nationwide participate in SNAP, according to data from the Food Research and Action Network. (Adobe Stock)
June 16, 2020

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. -- Older Arkansans who need help buying groceries are less likely to participate in the federal Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program compared with younger residents, and experts say misunderstanding about the program and bureaucratic hurdles mean more seniors in the state are going hungry in the era of the coronavirus.

Lance Whitney, director of SNAP outreach at the Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance, said while social-distancing measures and greater vulnerability to the coronavirus now are making it more difficult for seniors to put food on the table, asset limitations have always been a roadblock for seniors in need of food assistance.

"Asset limitations are a quick stop to being able to be SNAP qualified," Whitney said. "Because the asset limitation in Arkansas is $3,250, and all it would take is a piece of property they're not living on, a secondary car that may end up being left to them from their spouse who passed away."

Whitney also said many seniors don't want to become a burden on their families, and so have saved up a few thousand dollars for funeral and burial expenses - which ends up disqualifying them from receiving SNAP.

Data from the Food Research and Action Network show 11.5% of households with seniors in the state face food insecurity. And only 25% of eligible seniors in Arkansas participate in the program.

Whitney said state lawmakers could take steps to erase the asset limitation and other barriers to SNAP access for the state's older adults, especially amid the economic fallout from COVID-19.

"One of the key things is definitely raising the asset limitation," he said. "Once people hear the stories and the facts, the true facts, of what SNAP is and what the limitations are and that those are the roadblocks, it's kind of a no-brainer."

Research shows food-insecure seniors eat less nutritious foods, have worse health outcomes and are at higher risk for depression that their food-secure counterparts.

Nadia Ramlagan, Public News Service - AR