Senior hunger is a bigger problem in the South, the Southwest, and rural areas, and federal funding isn't keeping up, Ungar and Lieberman write. The Older Americans Act was amended in 1972 to provide meals and other services to seniors, but its budget hasn't kept pace with population growth or inflation. In June the House passed a $93 million increase in the act's nutrition funding, which would bring the total to $1 billion for the next fiscal year, but the increase faces an uphill battle in the Republican-controlled Senate. The act expires Sept. 30.
Another source of federal aid, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, isn't serving as many people as it could. Only 45% of adults age 60 and older have signed up for it. Seniors who don't use SNAP benefits typically don't know they qualify, don't think their benefits would be enough to make it worth it, or can't get to a grocery store to use them. "Even fewer seniors may have SNAP in the future," Ungar and Lieberman report. "More than 13% of SNAP households with elderly members would lose benefits under a recent Trump administration proposal."
Meals on Wheels, a nationwide network of local programs, is a major source of relief for hungry seniors, but its resources are stretched thin. The program receives a third of its funding from the Older Americans Act, and relies on a patchwork of state and local funding and private donations. "Private fundraising hasn’t been easy everywhere, especially rural communities without much wealth," Ungar and Lieberman report. "Philanthropy has instead tended to flow to hungry kids, who outnumber hungry seniors more than 2-to-1, according to Feeding America."
Senior hunger has an outsized impact on the U.S. as a whole. "Since malnutrition exacerbates diseases and prevents healing, seniors without steady, nutritious food can wind up in hospitals, which drives up Medicare and Medicaid costs, hitting taxpayers with an even bigger bill," Ungar and Lieberman report. And the issue isn't going away any time soon, they write: "James Ziliak, a poverty researcher at the University of Kentucky who worked on the Feeding America study, said food insecurity shot up with the Great Recession, starting in the late 2000s, and peaked in 2014. He said it shows no signs of dropping to pre-recession levels."