ALBANY, N.Y., Nov. 13, 2012 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Leading state and national experts came together today at a statewide summit to find solutions to address the local and nationwide increase in hunger among older adults. Sponsored by AARP, the New York State Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance, the New York State Office for the Aging, USDA FNS Northeast Regional Office SNAP, and Hunger Solutions New York, the experts looked at how to break down barriers to connecting older adults with food assistance and discussed the implications and emergency solutions for food relief for New Yorkers affected by Hurricane Sandy.
The number of Americans age 50 and older facing the risk of hunger increased by 79 percent between 2001 and 2009, totaling nearly 9 million, according to a recent report by AARP Foundation. In New York State, nearly one in four adults over the age of 60 and living at home is considered nutritionally at risk, according to the New York State Office for the Aging.
More older adults are experiencing hunger or are at risk for hunger since the recession began, and the number of seniors seeking food assistance will only increase as Baby Boomers grow older. In addition, as families recover from the devastation caused by the storm, many are seeking help from food banks and are in need of emergency food assistance benefits.
Despite the larger numbers of older adults who are hungry, it is estimated that half of them who may be eligible are not receiving benefits through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which is the new name for the Food Stamp Program. SNAP is identified as one of the most effective ways to reduce hunger, yet older adults face more barriers to obtaining the benefit than other age groups.
Nearly 500,000 New Yorkers age 60+ (347,000 in New York City and 151,000 in upstate and on Long Island) receive SNAP benefits, allowing them to maintain good health and nutrition, yet according to census data, an additional 500,000 older New Yorkers could potentially be eligible.
New York State continues to work hard to help those who are in need of SNAP benefits and are eligible by removing roadblocks. In recent months New York State has eliminated the finger imaging requirement and expanded outreach efforts. Also the needs of those suffering as a result of Hurricane Sandy have been addressed with expanded services such as replacement SNAP benefits.
"Bringing an end to hunger among older adults is one of the top priorities for AARP and AARP Foundation," said Beth Finkel, Manager for Community Outreach for AARP New York. "Through our work here in the state with the groups that we convened today and AARP Foundation's national Drive to End Hunger initiative, we are working to raise awareness about the growing problem and develop long-term solutions."
Some of the barriers preventing higher participation in SNAP among older New Yorkers are the stigma associated with accepting assistance, a fear of the application process, and lack of awareness of the benefit and its eligibility requirements. Among the measures discussed to increase SNAP participation among older adults in New York included streamlining the application process, increasing the benefit amount for those over age 60, and expanding nutritional outreach and assistance programs.
"It is one of Governor Cuomo's priorities to address the serious issue of hunger and New York State's senior population," said Elizabeth Berlin, Executive Deputy Commissioner of New York State Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance. "This conference brings together experts in hunger and aging and will help us as we continue to develop and improve policy and programs to protect this vulnerable population."
"This summit is very important and we are pleased to join our partners, both public and private to increase access and participation to the SNAP Program for older New Yorkers," said Greg Olsen, Acting Director of the New York State Office for the Aging. "We have to continue to get the word out across the state and to develop new ways to target diverse communities who may participate at lower rates, because we know good nutrition is so important to one's health, independence, mortality, because we know poor nutrition leads to higher health care costs, more emergency room visits and hospital stays, higher utilization of nursing homes and because we know that good nutrition is a key to preventing illness and helping to manage chronic conditions – many of which are preventable but are extremely costly to society and to an individuals health and well-being."
"The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as the Food Stamp Program, is an underutilized nutrition assistance benefit for approximately one-half of older New Yorkers in need. This convening puts that need into focus," said Linda Bopp, Executive Director of Hunger Solutions New York. "We look forward to working with our partners on solutions to ending hunger among older New Yorkers."
The summit is the second statewide summit on hunger hosted by AARP and is the culmination of a series of Drive to End Hunger Roundtables held across New York state in Rochester, Syracuse, Long Island and Glens Falls. Roundtables focusing on hunger in African American, Hispanic and Asian communities were also held in New York City. Representatives from each local roundtable attended the statewide summit to continue to contribute to the discussion. The solutions and best practices gleaned from this summit will be captured in a white paper produced in 2013.
AARP and AARP Foundation have established a relief fund to support victims in the U.S. devastated by Hurricane Sandy. To help bolster the relief effort, AARP and its affiliates will match contributions dollar-for-dollar up to $750,000, assuring up to $1.5 million in aid. Since announcing the establishment of the fund on November 1, the fund has raised more than $1 million. To donate to the relief fund, please go to: www.aarp.org/disasterrelief.
Hunger Solutions New York, based in Albany, has compiled a comprehensive list of resources for food and disaster relief related to Sandy.
Governor Cuomo has established a New York State resource site for Sandy recovery resources.
SOURCE AARP New York State