Among older adults who qualify for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), 48% don’t take advantage of these important benefits.
Barriers to applying for SNAP range from reluctance to ask for help to a belief that the application process is too difficult.
If you or an older adult you care for has concerns about applying for SNAP assistance, there are resources like BenefitsCheckUp that can help.
Too many older adults struggle to get enough to eat on a regular basis. In 2018, more than 2.9 million food-insecure households included an adult 65 or older.1 Often, these individuals must choose between eating three meals a day and keeping a roof over their head.
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) provides older adults with monthly food assistance, making it easier to buy the foods they need to thrive. But a large number of seniors who are eligible for SNAP don’t claim their benefits. In fact, only 48% of older adults who qualify for SNAP receive benefits, or less than half.1
What stops older adults from applying for SNAP?
There are many factors that may discourage an older adult from applying for SNAP. Below are some common barriers to seeking benefits—along with stories from real-life SNAP recipients who overcame them.
Barrier #1: “I’m worried the SNAP application process is too hard.”
If you’re concerned the SNAP application process is time-consuming and confusing, you should know help is available to you. Your local SNAP administration office is a good place to start for finding someone to walk you through the process step by step. In addition, NCOA sponsors a network of 85 Benefits Enrollment Centers (BECs)—from food banks to senior centers—across 41 states. Among other services, BECs help older adults with low income apply for SNAP and other benefit programs.
Tom, age 60, was hesitant to apply for SNAP because he'd heard the application process was complex. A nearby BEC worked with Tom to complete his SNAP application and help him understand any correspondence he received. Tom was approved for SNAP with maximum monthly benefits.
I'm grateful they took the time to help me apply," Tom told NCOA.
Tammara Moss, aged 62, needed food assistance. But she was worried about missing some documentation. Her local BEC provided SNAP application guidance over the phone, and even taught Tammara how to use her smartphone to look up helpful resources online. She was ultimately approved for $162 in monthly SNAP benefits and said they came at the perfect time. "It's a Godsend they helped me with application assistance," she said.
Barrier #2: “I don’t think I would qualify for SNAP.”
Even if you think you or an older adult you care for isn’t eligible for SNAP benefits, it takes only a few moments to find out. NCOA’s BenefitsCheckup makes it easy. Just answer a few questions to see if you qualify for SNAP and other benefit programs offered in your area. You may be surprised at what you’re eligible for.
Joan, age 77, told her local BEC:
I never thought I could get any assistance, and now I thank my SNAP specialist every time I use my SNAP funds!"
Mr. N., aged 70, also thought he wouldn’t meet the criteria for food assistance. "Living here for 20 years, I had already received help applying for benefits a long time ago. I didn't think I'd be eligible for any other benefit and therefore never tried to apply." Mr. N. now receives SNAP benefits of $112 a month, which helps him buy the groceries he needs to stay healthy.
Barrier #3: “I don’t like asking others for help.”
Many older adults feel a sense of shame at receiving food assistance. But SNAP benefits aren’t a “handout.” All government benefits programs are funded by taxes, and chances are you've been paying taxes all your life. Just like Social Security and Medicare, you have a right to SNAP benefits if you meet the requirements. Getting SNAP each month can free up funds to pay for your medications and healthcare expenses, so you can stay well. Plus, every time you swipe your SNAP EBT card, it puts money back into the local economy. You can even use your SNAP dollars to buy food from farmers markets and support farmers in your area.
Brenda, aged 69, was uncomfortable about pursuing SNAP assistance at first. However, now that she's receiving benefits, she's happy she asked for help from her city’s food bank. "SNAP is an immense stress-reliever," Brenda told NCOA.
Asking for help is not something you're proud to have to do until it becomes a necessity. The team I worked with treated me with kindness and without judgment."
Ms. E., aged 68, was also reluctant to contact one of our Benefits Enrollment Centers, but she finally reached out after a friend urged her to do so. "I'm a proud person and I don't like to ask for help," she told us. After talking with the people at her local Council on Aging, Ms. E. felt comfortable, understood, and supported. She now receives vital SNAP benefits that help her maintain her health and independence.
Barrier #4: “I’m not technology savvy.”
While many states allow older adults to apply for SNAP online, a computer is not necessary to apply for benefits (nor is being a technology whiz). You can request a SNAP paper application form by telephone or in writing and have it mailed directly to your home. You can also stop by your nearest SNAP office to pick up an application in person.
Unable to use technology, Mrs. G., aged 65, could not access or print a SNAP application online. But her local Council on Aging was ready to step in and help. After the agency assisted Mrs. G. with getting her application submitted, she was approved for $204 in monthly benefits. "I'm extremely grateful for the benefits and for the assistance I received from the agency," she explained to us.
Kenneth Boatwright, aged 63, was in a similar situation. He did not own a computer or even know how to use one, and he was worried about being able to renew his SNAP benefits. His local food bank helped him with the process, ensuring his renewal application was submitted on time. "Without SNAP, I couldn't afford my medication," he said.
My benefits help me buy meat and canned goods and if I didn't have them, I'd be eating at the soup kitchens.”
David Z., aged 75, is a veteran living with a disability. He has no access to a computer or the internet. Unsure of how to apply to SNAP, he reached out to a local Benefits Enrollment Center, which sent him a copy of the SNAP application and helped him complete and submit his paperwork. David was approved for $86 per month in benefits, saving him hundreds on groceries each year.
Barrier #5: “I can’t get to a SNAP office.”
In addition to filing your SNAP application in person, most states allow you to apply online and/or by phone. Some also allow SNAP interviews to be conducted by phone instead of face-to-face. If you have difficulty visiting a SNAP location for any reason, be sure to ask about the other options available to you.
Ms. Smith, aged 75, had received a notice about her SNAP benefits ending. Worried about leaving her house during the COVID-19 pandemic, she contacted her local Benefits Enrollment Center. The agency helped Ms. Smith complete her SNAP renewal paperwork and submit it online before the deadline.
I rejoiced knowing my application could be submitted online and I didn't have to go to an office,” she told us.
Looking for more information on SNAP and healthy eating for seniors? Visit our SNAP for Older Adults resource hub.
1. Boosting SNAP Benefits Can Help Keep Older Adults Nourished, Especially in Wake of COVID-19, Food Research and Action Center. Found on the internet at https://frac.org/blog/boosting-snap-benefits-can-help-keep-older-adults-nourished