For many senior citizens, the “golden years” of retirement are anything but. According to National Foundation to End Senior Hunger, 15 percent of seniors across the U.S. face the risk of hunger. And the problem is getting worse. The number of seniors facing hunger has increased by more than 50 percent since 2007.

Hunger puts seniors at risk for many other problems, including disability, depression, lower resistance to infections and longer hospital stays.

What’s causing the problem?

“Malnutrition knows no economic bounds,” says Ellie Hollander, the president and CEO of Meals on Wheels America. In some cases, she says, “Mom or Dad has hung up their car keys for good and can’t drive to the grocery store anymore.”

Other seniors simply can’t afford the food they need. Even though the economy has improved since the recession, the poverty rate for seniors has increased every year since 2005, according to the Employee Benefit Research Institute. The high unemployment rate for people over 50 — which, AARP reports, has doubled in the past four years — makes it harder to save money for their retirement.

“Hunger puts seniors at risk for many other problems, including disability, depression, lower resistance to infections and longer hospital stays.”

More than half of seniors rely on Social Security as their biggest income source, yet the average benefit is a meager $1,2000 a month. To make matters worse, as people age they spend more money on out-of-pocket medical expenses. As a result, some seniors must choose between paying for food and paying for medication.

 

Hope for the hungry

The good news is that help is available. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (also known as food stamps) assists more than 3.6 million low-income seniors — and even more seniors can benefit from this lifeline. The Food Research & Action Center reports that 60 percent of low-income seniors who qualify for SNAP don’t take advantage of it. FRAC and the AARP have launched a public outreach campaign to help seniors overcome the obstacles that prevent them from using SNAP, whether it’s not knowing they’re eligible, difficulty with the application process or simply being too proud to enroll.

Hollander points out that SNAP and other programs like Meals on Wheels, which help seniors stay healthy while living at home instead of at expensive nursing homes, “save families, the health care system and taxpayers a substantial amount of money.” They can also save our seniors from the suffering of hunger.