Food Research & Action Center
WASHINGTON, February 24, 2022 — An overwhelming majority of more than two dozen older adults interviewed about the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) said increased benefits during the COVID-19 pandemic improved their food-purchasing power, nutrition, health, and well-being. This is according to a new report, The Case for Making SNAP Benefits Adequate: Reflections from Interviews with Older Adults, released today by the Food Research & Action Center (FRAC) and commissioned by AARP Foundation.
SNAP is widely considered the nation’s first line of defense against hunger and enhances the purchasing power of millions of eligible households with low income. The proven program also stimulates the economy, particularly during economic downturns. Each $1 in SNAP benefits generates between $1.50 and $1.80 in economic activity.
“SNAP benefit boosts during the pandemic have helped struggling households to put food on the table,” said FRAC President Luis Guardia. “This report reinforces that SNAP matters for older adults. More must be done to make SNAP benefit amounts sufficient so that all older adults can obtain the nutrition they need without being forced to choose between paying for food or medicine or paying for food or keeping the lights on.”
Interviewees shared how the boosts to SNAP benefits improved their lives, from food purchases to health outcomes:
- “Relieved, happy, less stressed, not worried about it, knowing that I could actually eat balanced and nutritious [meals] … I could have fresh fruits and vegetables and … meat.”
- “[SNAP] has a positive impact, so I can have healthy foods that I’m not allergic to. I think it’s wonderful that it gives me such a choice of what to buy. I’m really happy that I have SNAP.”
- “You just felt so much better about yourself [when you have increased SNAP benefits] because you kind of had a freedom that you’d never had … I just think it was a real positive, uplifting experience.”
Interviewees reported receiving an average increase of $172 in SNAP benefits per month compared with pre-pandemic amounts. Prior to the pandemic, based on interviewees’ self-reported data, the average SNAP benefit amount was $56 per month per household.
Key findings from the interviews include:
- Before the pandemic, nearly all (24 out of 25) interviewees did not have enough SNAP benefits or other financial resources each month to pay for all their food needs and other household bills.
- During the pandemic, 23 out of 25 interviewees reported that increased SNAP benefits improved their food-purchasing power, including their ability to buy more food, a wider variety of food, and/or more fruits and vegetables.
- Most interviewees (19 out of 25) remarked that increased SNAP benefits freed up money for essential bills and household expenses.
The Families First Coronavirus Response Act allows for emergency SNAP allotments while both federal and state public health emergency orders are in effect. This granted the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) the authority to give states the flexibility to issue additional SNAP dollars, bringing household benefits up to the maximum amount for their household size. By maximizing benefits, states were able to narrow affordability gaps that plagued households with low income long before the pandemic. This affordability gap may be widening again as several states have already ended emergency allotments.
“A hunger cliff looms,” added Guardia. “Without these boosts to SNAP, many older adults will face significant challenges in affording the food they need to fuel their minds and bodies.”
When the national public health emergency declaration ends and states lose the authority to provide SNAP emergency allotments, SNAP participants stand to lose an average of $82 per month, and eligible adults who qualify for the minimum SNAP benefit will see their monthly benefits drop from $250 to $20.
Only 48% of eligible older adults participate in SNAP — the lowest percentage of any age group. AARP Foundation aims to improve participation by increasing awareness of the program and its eligibility requirements, assisting individuals with applying and maximizing their benefits, and supporting community organizations serving older adults in states with the Elderly Simplified Application Project (ESAP).
“SNAP is a lifeline for millions of people, including the nearly 9 million older adult households participating in the program. The pandemic has only made these benefits more critical than ever,” said Lisa Marsh Ryerson, president of AARP Foundation. “AARP Foundation is committed to improving our understanding of the causes of food insecurity and increasing SNAP enrollment among eligible older adults.”
Interviews for this report were conducted in September 2021 among 25 older adults, age 50 or older, residing in California, Idaho, Illinois, New York, Tennessee, Wisconsin, and Washington, D.C. To take part in the interviews, individuals had to be 50 years or over and a current SNAP recipient who has been using the program consistently since at least January 2020.
About Food Research & Action Center
The Food Research & Action Center improves the nutrition, health, and well-being of people struggling against poverty-related hunger in the United States through advocacy, partnerships, and by advancing bold and equitable policy solutions. To learn more, visit FRAC.org and follow us on Twitter and Facebook.
About AARP Foundation
AARP Foundation works to end senior poverty by helping vulnerable people over 50 build economic opportunity. Our approach emphasizes equitable outcomes for populations that have faced systemic discrimination. As AARP’s charitable affiliate, we serve AARP members and nonmembers alike. Through vigorous legal advocacy and evidence-based solutions, and by building supportive community connections, we foster resilience, advance equity and restore hope. To learn more, visit aarpfoundation.org or follow @AARPFoundation on social media.