Seniors and SNAP/Food Stamps

Older Americans who are eligible for SNAP/Food Stamps are significantly less likely to participate in the program than other demographic groups. Only one-third of eligible seniors benefit from the program. Many factors contribute to this low participation rate, from barriers related to mobility, technology, and stigma, to widespread myths about how the program works and who can qualify.

Studies have shown that one of the key reasons the elderly do not participate in the SNAP/Food Stamp Program is because they mistakenly believe they will only get the minimum benefit ($16).

  • In fact, in FY 2009 the average monthly benefit for each person over age 60 in the program was $102/month.

Seniors are less likely to be aware of their potential eligibility than the average eligible nonparticipant.

  • Two and a half percent of households with seniors do not know how or where to apply, as opposed to 1.4 percent of all households.
  • In a nationwide survey, respondents from households with elderly members were more likely than other households to consider themselves uninformed about the Food Stamp Program and the application process.
  • Households with elderly members were less likely than other households to have previously received food stamps, to know anyone who had received food stamps, or to know where to go to apply.

Stigma plays a particularly important role. Seniors have cited worries about how they might be perceived by grocery store staff and other shoppers, and about the embarrassment they might feel if family and friends knew they received benefits.

  • In a national survey of SNAP/Food Stamp households, 76 percent of those with seniors reported feelings of stigma, as compared with 60 percent of households overall.
  • According to a survey by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) of state SNAP/Food Stamp directors, 67 percent said that a major reason why seniors did not participate was that they felt embarrassed.

The application process can also be daunting, from the paperwork involved to the technology used.

  • According to a number of focus groups, many of the questions on the applications seemed unnecessary or caused a feeling of guilt for seniors. The application was also perceived to be confusing, particularly for those with limited English proficiency.