Food Assistance:

Options for Improving Nutrition for Older Americans

RCED-00-238: Published: Aug 17, 2000. Publicly Released: Sep 18, 2000.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO: (1) determined why some older persons do not use federal food relief programs; and (2) identified strategies that could be used to increase participation in these programs.

GAO noted that: (1) older persons do not participate in federal food assistance programs for many reasons; (2) some of these reasons cut across programs; (3) for example, older persons are often reluctant to accept food assistance because they believe such acceptance would compromise their independence; (4) additionally, some older persons associate accepting food assistance with welfare, which many older persons view negatively; (5) furthermore, funding constraints limit participation in several of the programs; (6) older persons' lack of awareness of the availability of programs and problems with access to transportation hinder participation in several of the programs; (7) other problems, however, are more program-specific; (8) state food stamp directors told GAO some eligible older persons believe the burden of applying for food stamps outweighs the expected low benefits; (9) unlike the other programs, the Child and Adult Care Food Program is limited in the benefits it provides to senior citizens because a limited number of facilities participate in the program; (10) program officials, providers, and advocacy groups have identified a number of actions that might increase older persons' participation in nutrition assistance programs; (11) in some instances, the options suggested would likely require a large infusion of resources; (12) for example, nearly all of the state food stamp directors endorsed increasing the minimum benefit level from $10 to $25 per month; (13) GAO estimates that the annual cost of this increase in Food Stamp Program benefits would be about $102 million for older persons who participate and could increase participation resulting in additional costs of about $26 million; (14) similarly, Elderly Nutrition Program providers and officials administering the Commodity Supplemental Food Program suggested that additional funding is needed to expand both programs to serve more people; (15) at this time, neither the Food and Nutrition Service nor the Administration on Aging has estimated the additional cost that might result if more people were attracted to these programs; (16) other suggestions are not likely to be as costly; and (17) for example, state food stamp directors endorsed proposals to simplify the application process, such as automatically making older persons eligible for food stamps when they are approved for Medicaid.

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