Food assistance programs for seniors in need

Published 3:51 pm Friday, March 19, 2010

Dear Savvy Senior

What can you tell me about food stamps or food assistance programs for seniors? Im a 65-year-old widow struggling to make it on Social Security.

Struggling Senior

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Dear Struggling,

Food stamps help put food on the table for more than 38 million Americans each month, including millions of seniors. Heres what you should know about this invaluable entitlement program, and where you can find additional assistance.

Food Stamps

If youre not familiar with the Federal Food Stamp Program, the first thing you need to know is that it changed its name. Its now called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP (your state may use a different name), and its available to lower-income families and individuals. To apply, youll need to fill out a state application form, and SNAP benefits are provided on an inconspicuous plastic card thats used like a debit card and accepted at most grocery stores.

For seniors (age 60 and older) to be eligible, your

assets must be under $3,000, not counting your home, car, retirement or pension plans. And your net income must be under the federal poverty guidelines, which is less than $903 per month for an individual or $1,215 for a family of two. Net income is figured by taking your gross income minus allowable deductions like medical expenses, rent or mortgage payments, heating and cooling costs, insurance, taxes

and more. To find out if you qualify, use the SNAP

pre-screening tool at The maximum amount of benefits you can receive as an individual is $200 per month. A family of two can get up to $367 per month. To learn more or apply, contact your local SNAP office. Call 800-221-5689 for contact information or visit

Other Food Programs

In addition to SNAP, another great program you should check out is the Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program which provides coupons that can be exchanged for fresh fruits and vegetables at farmers markets, roadside stands and community supported agriculture programs. This program is available in 41 states to seniors, age 60 and older, with monthly household incomes below $1,671, or $2,248 for a family of two. For more information visit and click on SFMNP State Agencies, or call 703-305-2746.

Two other programs that can help are the Emergency Food Assistance Program, which distributes food to low-income people in need at local food banks, and the Commodity Supplemental Food Program (available in 32 states) which provides food packages to seniors at or below 130 percent of the federal poverty line thats under $1,174 for an individual, $1,579 for two. To learn more about these programs contact your local food bank or your state distributing agency.

See or call 703-305-2662 for contact information. &bsp;

Senior Meal Programs

Depending on where you live, senior nutrition programs are another option you should investigate. These are programs that provide free or low-cost hot meals that are typically served in a congregate setting at senior centers, churches or housing projects. Some facilities even offer transportation to the sites, or will deliver the meals to your home if you cant get out. Also check out Meals on Wheels, a home meal delivery program thats very affordable (usually between $2 and $6) or it may be free to very low-income seniors. To locate senior meal programs in your area visit, or call your Area Agency on Aging (call 800-677-1116 to get the local number).

Search for Benefits

To look for other helpful programs you may be eligible for like SSI, Medicaid, extra help with prescription drugs, Medicare Savings Programs, help with utility bills and

more see BenefitsCheckUp, a comprehensive Web site that contains a database of more than 1,800 public and private assistance programs. Just go to and type in your personal and financial information and the site will give you a list of the different benefits you may be eligible for and will show you how to apply. If you dont have Internet access, your local public library can probably assist you with this.&bsp;&bsp; &bsp;

Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of The Savvy Senior book.