April 26, 2022
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) has long been considered the nation’s first line of defense against hunger, and a vital support to the nutrition, health, and well-being of older adults with low incomes.
Senior Hunger Awareness Month celebrated in April and Older Americans Month in May, are key times to reflect on the transformational role increased SNAP benefits have played in the lives of older adult participants during the COVID-19 pandemic. During the pandemic, the federal government made administrative adjustments and increased SNAP benefits in response to surging hardship and to protect public health. Beginning in the spring 2020, participants in all states received temporary SNAP Emergency Allotments (EAs) that boosted their monthly SNAP benefit up to the maximum for their household size. In spring 2021, most states continued to leverage federally funded SNAP EAs for their households, including an additional $95 per month for the lowest income SNAP households that already qualified for the maximum SNAP allotment.
The Impact of SNAP Boosts
The tangible benefits of pandemic SNAP benefit boosts for older adult participants are detailed in a recent FRAC study commissioned by the AARP Foundation. Through phone interviews with 25 older adult SNAP participants in six states and the District of Columbia, FRAC gained a deeper understanding of the impact that temporary pandemic-related SNAP benefit increases had on the health, nutrition, and overall well-being of older adults.
During the interviews, the older adults shared key ways the increased SNAP benefits had positive impacts on their lives, including on their food purchases, health, ability to pay bills, juggle other expenses, and weather the COVID-19 pandemic. Quotes from older adults powerfully conveyed that impact.
“It [increase in SNAP benefits] was psychologically, emotionally, and physically better for you all the way around; it benefited on all those levels.”
“I’ve been able to purchase … healthier foods because I’ve been able to buy a lot more fresh fruits and vegetables. Whereas before I couldn’t necessarily afford the fresh fruits and vegetables.”
“It [SNAP] freed up what little cash was available … [for other] necessities for living, like laundry. [After the SNAP increase,] I didn’t have anxiety on my shoulders either.”
The Imminent SNAP Hunger Cliff
Unfortunately, these benefit increases will end nationally when the public health emergency declaration ends. This threatens to result in a significant “hunger cliff” for millions of people. Most SNAP participants will lose an average of $82 in monthly SNAP benefits. Others stand to lose much more—particularly older adult households that qualify only for SNAP benefits at or near the minimum SNAP benefit level of $20.
For some participants, SNAP benefits have already decreased as a result of the state halting emergency allotments. During the study interviews, older adults from Idaho explained how their state’s suspension of SNAP Emergency Allotments earlier in the year adversely affected them. As one older adult shared: “Well, I’m going to a lot more food banks, for sure.”
Take Action to Mitigate the “Hunger Cliff” and Help Older Adults
There are key actions anti-hunger stakeholders can take to help mitigate the “hunger cliff” and help ensure more older adults, and all SNAP participants, have access to the resources they need for healthy lives:
- Urge federal and state policymakers to extend the duration of federal and state pandemic health declarations, and leverage SNAP EAs and administrative access strategies.
- Push for permanent improvements to SNAP benefits adequacy and eligibility.
- Help connect more older adults to SNAP and help them claim the deductions and full benefits to which they are entitled.
- Stay informed and find resources related to older adult food security with FRAC’s older adult webpage.