Kansas City Star, March 5, 2008: Millions of seniors still going hungry, Congress told

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Cox News Service

WASHINGTON | Despite privately and publicly funded food programs, hunger still plagues more than 5 million elderly Americans, Congress was told Wednesday.

“With rising prices of grain, corn, and gas in the United States, prices for food also are on the rise. These rising prices make the balance of life that much more difficult and fragile for those seniors who want to stay in their homes and communities as they age,” Sen. Gordon Smith, an Oregon Republican, said at a hearing of the Senate Special Committee on Aging.

A study by the University of Kentucky۪s Center for Poverty Research released at the hearing said the seniors most at risk of going hungry are those between the ages of 60 and 64, living at or below the poverty line, with a grandchild, high school dropouts, African American or Hispanic, unmarried, or renters.

Witnesses said that while current anti-hunger programs play a vital role, several factors limit their effectiveness.

“Adequate nutrition plays an integral role in keeping adults healthy and independent as they age. It can prevent hunger and it reduces the risk and presence of chronic diseases and related disabilities, maintains the immune system, and supports better mental and physical health,” said Edwin Walker, deputy assistant secretary of the federal Administration on Aging.

Speaking of the agency۪s Elderly Nutrition Program and those of the Meals on Wheels Association of America, he said, “for the majority of program participants, the single meal that they receive five days a week provides one-half or more of their total food intake for the day.”

But witnesses noted enrollment difficulties with federal programs and long waiting lists for programs like Meals on Wheels. In addition, they said, there is a continuing stigma associated with receiving food stamps.

Kate Houston, deputy under secretary for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, said the department is trying to increase enrollment in welfare services by making the programs more accessible to seniors. She said registration is now available online and at senior centers, and said an obstacle to participation was removed with the exclusion of retirement savings accounts when determining income eligibility of adults.

Houston said the USDA is continuing to explore a new name for the food stamp program, now that benefits are disbursed electronically with an ATM-like card.

“We think the name food stamps has a stigma, particularly among the elderly, that we can now eliminate given the removal of paper coupons from the program,” she said.

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