Expanded pandemic-era food benefit will soon expire, leaving seniors vulnerable

·4-min read

Some states are quietly sunsetting emergency food and nutrition benefits, leaving the country’s food insecure — particularly older adults — in a precarious situation.

The passage of the American Rescue Plan extended a 15% increase in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (commonly known as SNAP) benefits from June through the end of September. But some recipients will or have seen their benefits expire earlier as many governors allow state-level emergency declarations to expire, which are needed to get the extra pandemic aid. 

The reduction — either now or later — will especially hurt poorer seniors.

“The drop for many [households] will be quite steep,” AARP Foundation President Lisa Marsh Ryerson told Yahoo Money. “Any change will have a direct impact on older adults’ financial situation and budgeting and their ability to secure essentials, and certainly food is an essential.”

The rollback in benefits means that some individuals will see their financial aid dramatically drop from as much as $234 each month down to $16, the minimum payment for a single-person household pre-pandemic, according to the AARP, with the reduction increasing for larger low-income households.

RYAZAN, RUSSIA - APRIL 27, 2020: A customer at a vegetables section of a hypermarket of the Globus retail chain amid the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. Customers have to wear masks while shopping at the hypermarket. Russian President Vladimir Putin has expanded non-working period till April 30, 2020 to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus. Alexander Ryumin/TASS (Photo by Alexander Ryumin\TASS via Getty Images)
SNAP acts as a lifeline to keep the 1 in 7 older adults who report that they are food insecure out of poverty. (Photo by Alexander Ryumin\TASS via Getty Images)

'SNAP benefits are critical'

Food insecurity compounds the financial stress on the millions of adults 50 and older who were already struggling prior to the pandemic and has only increased, according to a study from the AARP Foundation. 

Marsh Ryerson called the pandemic “a perfect storm” for older Americans and history has proved that seniors disproportionately struggle greater in the aftermath of economic upheaval than other age cohorts.

“For older adults, it takes them longer to recover from that job loss, longer to be reemployed, and when they are reemployed, [that job’s pay is not] at the same level that they were receiving before,” Marsh Ryerson said. “SNAP benefits are critical for low-income seniors who have suffered these job losses.”

SNAP acts as a lifeline to keep the 1 in 7 older adults who report that they are food insecure out of poverty, Marsh Ryerson explained, but enrollment numbers aren’t reflective of how many could benefit. Only 48% of eligible seniors enroll in the SNAP program, compared to 86% of eligible adults ages 18 to 59.

The application barriers are “real burdens” for older adults, Marsh Ryerson said. There’s a reluctance to provide private information, and for some, ailing health, low literacy levels, social isolation, or lack of internet access place limits on what seniors are capable of doing, she said.

Food insecurity compounds the financial stress on the millions of older adults 50 and older already struggling prior to the pandemic and has only increased, found a study from AARP. (Photo: Getty)
Food insecurity compounds the financial stress on the millions of adults 50 and older who were already struggling prior to the pandemic and has only increased, found a study from AARP. (Photo: Getty)

Certain individuals and communities also carry a false perception that their benefit amount “wouldn’t be significant enough to be helpful to them,” she added. 

However, data shows that the average SNAP benefit for eligible adults age 50 and older is $142 per month. SNAP benefits data show that older participants who received the extra benefits saw much greater effects on their food security than those receiving the normal amount.

Education and outreach are paramount in addressing the problem that is “hidden in plain sight,” Marsh Ryerson said, emphasizing that there’s something to be gained from providing older adults access to tailored information with “user-friendly tools” to meet their needs.

AARP Foundation's proposal is for one universal application that simplifies and “integrates benefits support for older adults” so applications can be used for multiple social welfare programs, including SNAP and Medicaid, and rent or utility assistance.

“So many older adults are either in poverty today or slipping into poverty, and this has been escalated or exacerbated by the ongoing pandemic,” Marsh Ryerson said. “We all lose if we discount older adults and their contributions to our communities. We can't leave them behind.”

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Stephanie is a reporter for Yahoo Money and Cashay, a new personal finance website. Follow her on Twitter @SJAsymkos.

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