Senate Hearing Addresses Hunger Among Older Adults

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U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging Chairman Bob Casey (D-PA) and Ranking Member Tim Scott (R-SC) held a hearing yesterday entitled, “Setting the Table: Promoting Healthy and Affordable Food for Older Americans,” which examined efforts to ensure more older adults are able to consistently access nutritious food to improve health outcomes and lower health care costs. Chairman Casey and Ranking Member Scott introduced the Senior Nutrition Task Force Act, which establishes an interagency task force to identify tools to combat hunger and malnutrition among older adults and adults with disabilities. Chairman Casey also introduced the Tools for Ensuring Access to Meals (TEAM) Act, which would provide dedicated funding to implement the recommendations of the interagency task force.

The hearing also featured the Aging Committee’s bipartisan report recognizing the impact of 50 years of the Older Americans Act (OAA) Nutrition Program on older adult hunger. The OAA Nutrition Program ensures that older adults have affordable and nutritious meals, promotes socialization, and reduces food insecurity. In 2020, Chairman Casey led the reauthorization of the OAA, including a 7 percent funding increase in the initial year, followed by a 6 percent increase annually through fiscal year 2024.

“With the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act in August, Democrats made great strides in lowering the sky-high cost of prescription drugs for seniors. Still, there is more to do. Congress must continue to support programs like the Older Americans Act Nutrition Program, SNAP, the Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program, and Senior Food Boxes. And we must continue work to reduce barriers to access. No senior should have to choose between putting food on the table or taking a needed medication,” said Chairman Casey.

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“For the past 50 years, the Older Americans Act Nutrition Program has saved millions from food insecurity. I’m proud of our bipartisan report documenting its impact on seniors’ lives,” said Ranking Member Scott. “Today, with historic highs in food prices, our continued focus should be on combating inflation so that seniors have an easier time at the grocery store.”

In Pennsylvania alone, over 95,000 older adults currently receive meals through the program. Food insecure and malnourished older adults often have an overall lower diet quality, which puts them at higher risk for developing chronic conditions, such as diabetes, heart disease, depression, and hypertension. Additionally, adults with disabilities are over two times more likely to be food insecure than their nondisabled counterparts.

Chairman Casey invited Elayne Masters, a nutrition advocate with persistent concussive symptoms from Allegheny County, PA, to testify. “…I have enough to eat because of programs sponsored by the Older Americans Act or Farm Bill. Often people and organizations do not realize how desperately individuals in my position need assistance. And please don’t assume that a person doesn’t need help—whether it’s filling out a SNAP application or meeting deadlines—based on outward appearances. Many federal nutrition programs have cumbersome application processes that can be difficult to navigate, and we would benefit from an extra hand or support,” she said. “All of the programs I’ve mentioned provide invaluable benefits to older Americans. I believe that the key to improving them is to offer more flexibility, more access to healthy foods, and more efforts to reduce barriers to access, like transportation, delivery options, and easier/simplified applications.”

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Ranking Member Scott invited Tom Gilroy, a volunteer with the East Cooper Community Outreach group in Mount Pleasant, SC, to testify. “…The best part of volunteering is the people you meet and get to know as real folks. Such as – I will call her Ms. Harrison – a 72 year old who was in desperate need. She lives on a fixed income and although the pandemic was financially challenging, she remained healthy and made ends meet. Now she faces a new challenge after her 3 teenage grandchildren came to live with her, after being removed from their parents’ home. They now depend on her for care – for food, for clothing, for help. And inflation isn’t making it any easier for her each day…”

Find state-by-state fact sheets on the OAA Nutrition Program here.

Read more about the Senior Nutrition Task Force Act here.

Read more about the TEAM Act here.

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