Assistance for Older Adults Facing Food Insecurity and Hunger

ByNathan Paulus
Edited byRae Osborn

Updated: April 23, 2024

ByNathan Paulus
Edited byRae Osborn

Updated: April 23, 2024

Advertising & Editorial Disclosure

Hunger is a pressing issue that affects millions of older adults across the United States. Characterized by a lack of consistent access to nutritious food, senior hunger is concerning due to its direct impact on older adults' physical and mental health and overall quality of life.

If you’re a senior experiencing food insecurity, we’ve compiled this guide with government programs and community resources to help you eradicate hunger and get the nutritional support you need in your golden years.

What Is Senior Hunger?

Senior hunger — a form of food insecurity — refers to older adults lacking regular access to adequate nutritious food. Food insecurity is a serious issue that adversely affects one’s health and overall quality of life. Some of the seniors facing this challenge live above the federal poverty line, indicating that the problem isn't solely economic. Factors like limited income, inadequate transportation, racial disparities, socioeconomic status and geographic location further compound the difficulty in accessing nutritious food, leading to irregular meals and poor nutrition.

Quantifying Food Insecurity Among Older Adults

Millions of older adults grapple with food insecurity, a condition that restricts access to nutritious meals and also elevates the risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease, diabetes and mental health issues. The following are key statistics from the Feeding America 2021 report about senior hunger based on 18 questions in the Food Security Supplement (FSS).


Senior Hunger Prevention Act of 2023

The Senior Hunger Prevention Act of 2023 aimed to address the issue of senior hunger by modifying existing federal food assistance programs — including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and the Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP) — for better integration and accessibility for seniors. Here's an overview of this bill:

Expanded Eligibility

The legislation extends eligibility for more seniors by updating the criteria for federal food assistance programs. It allows SNAP eligibility certification for up to 36 months (up from 24 months) for households with all members being elderly or disabled. It also broadens the scope of the SNAP medical expense deduction.

Simplified Application for SNAP

The USDA is tasked to develop an Elderly Simplified Application Program (ESAP) to simplify access. This initiative permits states to simplify the SNAP application and certification for households where all adult members are elderly or disabled without earned income.

Meal Delivery Flexibility

The bill encourages the USDA to foster partnerships with SNAP-participating retail stores and community-based organizations. This collaboration aims to provide free or low-cost food delivery for SNAP beneficiaries, incorporating private funds to expand service reach.

Public-Private Partnership:

Additionally, the legislation reauthorizes and provides extra funding for the CSFP, broadening eligibility to low-income adults with disabilities. It also allows for CSFP benefits certification up to 36 months.

Other Legislative Measures

Apart from the Senior Hunger Prevention Act, several legislative measures address senior hunger:

Older Americans Act (OAA)

Established in 1965, the OAA outlines a structure for delivering community-based services and programs to older Americans. It aims to assist elders in maintaining health and independence in their communities. The Act supports various services, including nutritional programs such as congregate meals and home-delivered meals, caregiver support and efforts to prevent abuse and neglect.

The Farm Bill

This wide-ranging legislation, updated every five years, covers agricultural and food programs, including SNAP. SNAP is designed to help eligible low-income individuals and families, including seniors, afford nutritious food by providing electronic benefits for purchasing eligible food items.

Food and Nutrition Assistance Programs for Older Adults

Several nationwide programs provide food assistance to seniors struggling with hunger. They aim to ensure consistent access to wholesome, nutritious food for seniors, regardless of income or geographical location.

How to Apply

Offers financial assistance for purchasing nutritious food, using an Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) card at grocery stores and farmers' markets.

Enables recipients to buy food according to their dietary needs.

Targets low-income individuals and families; eligibility varies by state.

Apply via local state agencies or online through the state's SNAP website.

Aims to improve the health of low-income seniors by providing them with nutritious USDA food packages.

Monthly food packages containing a variety of food items.

Seniors aged 60 and over, meeting income guidelines.

Contact local agencies as listed by the USDA for CSFP.

Low-income seniors are given vouchers to use when purchasing fresh, locally farmed fruits, vegetables and herbs.

Access to fresh and nutritious produce.

Low-income seniors; specifics can vary by state.

State agencies distribute coupons, with details available on the USDA SFMNP page

Delivers nutritious meals directly to the homes of seniors who are homebound or have difficulty preparing food.

Hot, prepared meals delivered to seniors' homes.

Primarily older adults who are homebound.

Contact local Meals on Wheels programs for application information.

Local Food Banks and Pantries

Provide immediate food assistance through a range of nutritious food options.

Access to various food items without formal eligibility requirements.

Generally available to anyone facing food insecurity.

Use the Feeding America website to locate nearby food banks or pantries.

How to Apply for Food Assistance as an Older Adult

Applying for food assistance involves understanding eligibility criteria, preparing necessary documentation and following the specific application process for each program. While each program has unique requirements, the general steps below offer a foundational guide to securing the support you need.

Eligibility Criteria

Familiarize yourself with the eligibility requirements for different programs, including income, age and residency. Choose the programs that best fit your needs based on your eligibility.

Gather Necessary Documents

Prepare documents such as proof of identity (driver's license, state ID), proof of residence (utility bill, rental agreement) and proof of income (pay stubs, tax returns) in advance.

Use Online Applications

Many programs offer online applications, simplifying the submission process. Check if your chosen program allows for online applications to save time.

Visit Local Agencies for In-Person Applications

If an online application is not an option, or if you prefer in-person assistance, local agencies can provide support and guidance through the application process.

Wait for Approval

Processing times vary by program. Await notification for approval and further instructions.

Seek Help if Needed

Don't hesitate to ask for help during the application process. Local community centers, senior services and program hotlines can provide assistance and answer questions.

Maximizing Your Food Assistance Benefits

Making the most of food assistance benefits involves strategic planning and financial literacy. By understanding program qualifications, applying wisely and managing benefits efficiently, seniors can stretch their assistance further while ensuring affordable nutritious meals. Here's a streamlined guide to saving more while using food assistance benefits.


Additional Resources

We've created a list of resources for further reading on resources for a healthy diet and nutrition assistance for older adults.

About Nathan Paulus

Nathan Paulus headshot

Nathan Paulus is the Head of Content Marketing at MoneyGeek, with nearly 10 years of experience researching and creating content related to personal finance and financial literacy.

Paulus has a bachelor's degree in English from the University of St. Thomas, Houston. He enjoys helping people from all walks of life build stronger financial foundations.