Dear Savvy Senior,
I run a community counseling program for needy families and am frustrated that so few eligible seniors take advantage of the food stamp program. Can you write a column on this to help educate seniors to this underutilized benefit?
It’s hard to imagine that a government program serving more than 46 million Americans each month is considered severely underutilized. But that’s the reality of the federal Food Stamp Program when it comes to serving seniors.
Nationwide, food stamps (now called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP) reaches around 80 percent of those eligible, but the numbers are much slimmer among the seniors, age 60 and older. Recent statistics indicate only 39 percent of eligible seniors receive SNAP benefits.
There are a number of reasons for the lack of participation. Some seniors are too embarrassed or too proud to apply. Others think that if they receive SNAP they will be taking food benefits away from others (which they won’t). Some think it is too difficult to apply for SNAP, and others don’t even know the program exists.
With all that said, here’s a run down of which seniors are eligible for SNAP, what they get and how they can apply.
For seniors to get SNAP, their “net income” must be under the 100 percent federal poverty guidelines. So, households that have at least one person age 60 and older, or disabled, their net income must currently be less than $958 per month for an individual or $1,293 for a family of two. Households receiving TANF or SSI (except in California) are also eligible.
Net income is figured by taking gross income minus allowable deductions like medical expenses that exceed $35 per month out-of-pocket, and shelter costs (rent or mortgage payments, taxes and utility costs) that exceeds half of the household’s income.
In addition to the net income requirement, a few states also require that a senior’s “assets” be below $3,250, not counting the home, retirement or pension plans, income from SSI or TANF, and vehicle (this varies by state). Most states, however, have much higher asset limits or they don’t count assets at all when determining eligibility.