Some of it may be pride and some of it may be privacy, but Bryce Rathbone, AARP’s benefits coordinator, thinks older Americans just aren’t aware they may qualify for SNAP, the government’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
“The biggest problem is making people aware,” Rathbone said Wednesday at Stop & Shop Supermarket in Hartford.
There are an estimated 95,000 seniors in Connecticut that qualify for the program, but only about 37,000 are currently using it, Lucy Nolan, executive director of End Hunger Connecticut, said.
Nolan said SNAP, which would be known to older Americans as food stamps, recently raised income limits to 185 percent of the federal poverty level, which is about $20,000 a year for a single adult and $27,000 a year for a couple. Unlike other government assistance programs, she said there’s no asset test included on the application so you can still own a home and receive benefits.
Even those receiving Social Security or other retirement benefits may qualify for the average monthly benefit of $134, she added.
Rathbone said he knows his mother’s generation prided themselves on being self-sufficient and that pride still exists for many seniors. However, he argues that seniors have paid into the system for decades and now they’re getting some of that money back through these types of programs.
Alicia Flynn, vice president and chief development officer at Foodshare Inc., said charitable giving has only done so much to close the hunger gap in the state.
Last year Foodshare donated 12 million pounds of food to over 350 nonprofits, but over the last 18 months its seen a 30 percent increase in need in Hartford and Tolland Counties.
“We will never be able to close that gap,” Flynn said Wednesday. “SNAP is the way. It’s easy, clean and dignified.”
In an effort to help spread the word about the program, Foodshare has teamed up with AARP, End Hunger Connecticut, the Connecticut Association for Human Services, and the Hispanic Health Council.
The coalition has set up a hotline for seniors to call and determine whether they are eligible for benefits. That number is 1-866-974-7627.
The phone line is currently automated, but it will be staffed with volunteers Nov. 14 through Dec. 15 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. for those requiring more assistance with the application process.
Foodshare’s Krista Ostaszewski said she’s looking for volunteers to help staff the hotline. For those interested in donating their time you can reach Ostaszewski at 860-286-9999, ext. 104.
Rathbone and Nolan also noted that unlike the food coupons or food stamps of the past, all benefits are now placed on ATM like cards, making it less likely for the person behind you in the grocery line to know you purchased the food with government assistance.