May is Older Americans Month. So many of us are worried about the older adults in our lives, and one thing that tops the list of concerns is thinking about how our loved ones can access food. Across the nation, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is the first line of defense for older adults experiencing food insecurity each day, and that is especially the case during the COVID-19 pandemic. For millions of older adults in the U.S., the basis of concerns about accessing food is a lack of resources to afford enough food.

Recent data from 2018 showed that more than 2.9 million food-insecure households included an adult age 65 or older. About 21 percent of all food-insecure households include an adult 65 or older. Food-insecurity rates tend to be higher among older adults, including those who are low-income, Black, or Hispanic.

Food insecurity has harmful impacts on the health and well-being of older adults. Older adults who are food insecure often experience negative mental and physical health conditions and outcomes, such as diabetes, depression, limitations on activities of daily living, hypertension, heart disease, and asthma.

And now older adults struggling against hunger are even more at risk in the midst of this pandemic. COVID-19 poses particular risk to food-insecure older adults who are age 65 and older, older adults of color, and older adults with underlying medical conditions.

SNAP can help. A considerable body of evidence shows that SNAP plays a role in improving food security, economic security, health, and dietary intake throughout a recipient’s lifespan. With more than 5.5 million older adults (age 60 or older) participating, SNAP reaches more older adults than any other nutrition program, including home-delivered meals and congregate meals combined, and can readily be scaled up to serve millions more.

SNAP can help older adults minimize exposure to COVID-19 through person-to-person contact by giving them agency to decide where and what time to shop.

In FY2017, SNAP only reached 48 percent of eligible older adults, and now millions more are likely to qualify due to job losses and slashed work hours. It is critical to protect and strengthen SNAP in order to help older adults during this time and to boost economic activity.  Each $1 in SNAP benefits during a downturn generates between $1.50 and $1.80 in economic activity.

While the Families First Act provide some temporary SNAP relief to older adults, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s interpretation of Emergency SNAP (E-SNP) boosts left the 40 percent of SNAP households already at the SNAP maximum levels without any new Emergency SNAP (E-SNAP payments. Among those missing out on any E-SNAP are about 1 million households with elderly members that are receiving only the usual maximum allotment of SNAP benefits.

Key proposals that provide more to help older adults access nutritious food during this crisis and jump start the economy include:

(I) boosting the maximum SNAP benefit by 15 percent (this boost applies to all SNAP households for about $25 more per person per month)

(II) increasing the monthly minimum SNAP benefit from $16 to $30 (about 1 million older adults on SNAP only get the minimum benefit); and

(III) placing a hold on harmful rules proposed by the Executive Branch that weaken SNAP eligibility and benefits.

This Older Americans Month, urge Members of Congress to pass and the President to sign a COVID-19 emergency relief to promote food security for older Americans and others as well as jump start the nation’s economy.  Call Members of Congress through the U.S. Capitol switchboard at (202) 224-3121 or tag them on Twitter or Facebook. You can find ways to contact them here.