Older Arizonans struggle with food security and aid registration

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The number of older adults in Arizona participating in the supplemental nutrition assistance program, or SNAP, is on the increase and was rising even before the pandemic. The number of Arizona seniors facing food insecurity is also up. To learn more, we spoke with Angie Rodgers, the president and CEO of Arizona Food Bank Network.

Rodgers said that food insecurity during the pandemic increased for everyone, but she especially saw increases for those over the age of 60. “It has us concerned,” she said.

“We know a lot of individuals enrolled during the pandemic. In April about 102,000 Arizonans over the age of 60 were enrolled in SNAP,” Rodgers said. She added that they would like to see more seniors able to access that program and rely on it if they have to. Unfortunately, though, nearly two-thirds of them don’t participate in the SNAP program despite their eligibility.

Eligibility is only one hurdle for the program, however. The application for SNAP is about 30 pages, making entry to the program difficult from the start.

“I don’t know anyone who likes to complete 31 pages of anything, and 31 pages to receive SNAP benefits seems excessive,” Rodgers said. She added that many of the questions in the application can be answered through external sources. One example of this might be social security income, which many of the SNAP-eligible people rely on, or other information that could be collected elsewhere. Rodgers would like to see them become eligible for longer periods of time.

“To add to that, individuals who are having to access benefits online can sometimes be difficult for seniors who don’t have access to computers,” Rodgers said. Some older adults may not be as familiar or adept with computers and that can pose a hurdle.

Generally, food insecurity means the lack of access to food in a reliable fashion. Food insecurity can be a regular occurrence or a one-time event caused by various factors. Financial hardship due to the pandemic can exacerbate an already difficult issue.

Regarding state assistance and intervention, Rodgers said that the Department of Economic Security can apply for a waiver that would make the application process shorter. It would also allow for longer eligibility and a more streamlined question process. The group is in talks with the DES about the issue.

Angie Rodgers, President & CEO Arizona Food Bank Network

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