By Mary A. Sullivan, Food Bank of Alaska & Lynda Meyer, Municipality of Anchorage Senior Services Coordinator
“Hunger is a disease, but we have the cure to end senior hunger today. We just need the leadership and courage to get it done.”
– Enid Borden, President and CEO of Meals on Wheels Association of America
Hunger Among Seniors in Alaska
Hunger among seniors in Alaska is a hidden but increasing problem. AARP indicates that 7.42% of older adults are at risk of hunger in Alaska and that food insecurity for persons over 60 has increased 25% between 2007-2009.
The Hunger in America 2010 study found 42% of adult pantry and kitchen clients in Alaska were 50 and older. Although only 8.5% are currently 65 and older, this number will only increase. Of those currently 65 and older, 57.8% experienced low or very low food security. In 2009, over 20% of Alaskans ages 65 and older received a cash supplement in the form of the Senior Benefits Program ranging from $125 to $250 per month, based on income. That same year, 29% of all Adult Public Assistance recipients in Alaska were seniors with an average benefit of $277.91. These numbers paint a sobering picture for the present and the future.
For seniors, poverty is the leading cause of hunger; living alone is another risk factor. Older Americans faced with hunger are more likely to report poor health, live at or below the poverty level, and be divorced, separated or living with a grandchild. Feeding America estimates the number of seniors facing hunger will increase nationally from 5 million to 9.5 million by 2025. A 2008 National Meals on Wheels Association of America report found 5 million Americans age 60 and over are worried about being able to put food on the table.
Often there is a misperception regarding who is food insecure, with an image of a homeless man or woman standing in line at the soup kitchen. The numbers paint a different image. 34% of those who report food insecurity are employed. 32% are either on Social Security, Social Security Disability or a pension. Only 5% report being on welfare. Hunger is a problem that affects many Alaskans, children, the retired and those who are working or recently unemployed.
For those who face food insecurity, there are programs and services available. Unfortunately, many seniors do not take advantage of the programs or do not think they are eligible. Some programs that are available include the following.
Supplemental Food Programs
The Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP) is a United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) program that provides a monthly package of nutritious food and nutrition education for seniors over 60 who are at or below 130% of the federal poverty level – $18,161 per year for a family of one. Food Bank of Alaska and Fairbanks Community Food Bank provide over 2,000 CSFP boxes each month to agencies in Anchorage, Fairbanks, Kenai Peninsula, Kodiak and Mat-Su.
The Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) is called the Food Stamp Program in Alaska. The federal government funds 100% of the food stamp benefit. The Division of Public Assistance issues Food Stamp benefits via the Alaska Quest card. The amount a household receives each month depends on the household’s countable income and size of the household. Eligible households use the food stamp benefits to buy food products from authorized stores statewide. The gross monthly income test is based on 130% of the current Alaska poverty standard. In 2009, for seniors 60 to 65, the average food stamp benefit was $160.72; $99.23 for those 66 and over. Alaska food stamp recipients, 60 and over increased 22% from November 2008 to November 2009. The Alaska Senior Benefit is another form of cash benefit that is available to seniors who meet income eligibility guidelines. This benefit can go a long way toward helping with food security as it can be used for grocery, utility, rent, medical or other needs since it is a cash benefit. Paul Watson at Food Bank of Alaska is available to assist seniors who have questions or need assistance in applying for the Food Stamp or Senior Benefit programs. He can be reached at 907-222-3119 or by email at email@example.com
The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) is a USDA commodity program that provides food items once a month to households at or below 185% of the federal poverty level. It is distributed by agencies across the state.
Farmer’s Market coupons are available to low-income seniors who live in areas of Alaska where there are Farmer’s Markets and farm stands. The Senior Farmer’s Market Program operates in Anchorage, Fairbanks and the Palmer/Wasilla areas with plans to expand to other areas as funds are available. If you are an eligible senior, coupons are available at local senior centers.
Senior nutrition services, funded through state and federal grants are available in many communities across the state. Congregate meal sites and home-delivered meals are available to those 60 and over usually at the local senior center or school. The meal sites provide a hot noon time meal along with companionship and activities all for the cost of a donation. Home-delivered meals are available for those who are unable to travel to a meal site. Contact your local senior center or call 2-1-1 for a meal site in your area.
Alaska 211 keeps an updated list of food pantries and meal sites across the state of Alaska. They can be reached by dialing 2-1-1 or 1-800-478-2221. The Aging and Disabilities Resources Center is also available to answer questions regarding food programs as well as provide information and assistance regarding other senior benefit programs. The statewide toll free number is 1-877-6AK-ADRC (1-877-625-2372).
What Can You Do?
If you are reading this article you may not be experiencing hunger but want to help those who are experiencing food insecurity. Ideas on how to help include:
• Spread the word that hunger is a problem
• Advocate for strong nutrition legislation at the state and federal level.
• Volunteer at a local food pantry or senior center
• Donate funds to your local food bank.
If you are interested in any of these opportunities, Food Bank of Alaska would be happy to help connect you to your local resources. Contact Mary Sullivan, Director of Advocacy and Agency Relations for Food Bank of Alaska at 907-222-3113 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Food Bank of Alaska and our partners are encouraging everyone in the Great Land to take action against hunger all month long. Advocate, donate or volunteer; everyone can find a way that’s right for them to make a difference during Hunger Action Month. See what we have planned this year by going to our website at foodbankofalaska.org or hungeractionmonth.org.
No one deserves to be hungry, let’s Speak Out Against Hunger in Alaska!
Originally published in the Senior Voice.