HOW COULD OLDER PEOPLE IN OKLAHOMA BE STARVING WHEN THEY GET A SOCIAL SECURITY CHECK EVERY SINGLE MONTH?
THE HIDDEN HUNGRY
- Four million Seniors are malnourished in the US according to The American Academy of Family Physicians. Oklahoma ranks as one of the ten states in the nation for senior hunger, coming in at #8!
- Out of those seniors who face the threat of hunger, the majority (63%) are white, have incomes above the poverty line and the widowed, with disabled widows at a higher risk. Among the most pronounced increases, for food insecurity, are the retired, those who do not live in a metro area, women, and households with no grandchildren present.
- 12% of those 65 and older are living at the poverty level.
- Hunger is higher in rural areas than in Oklahoma City where 1/3 of Seniors are hungry on a daily basis.
SOCIAL SECURITY AND FOOD STAMPS
- One in three Oklahomans rely on Social Security for their total income, although there is no minimum Social Security benefit amount.
- At the death of a spouse one Social Security benefit goes away.
- There are hungry elderly people on Social Security, in our state who do not qualify for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), more commonly called food stamps While more than 50% of households receiving food through Feeding America* are also receiving food stamps a Senior receiving the average Social Security benefit does not qualify for food stamps.
- One widow lost her $22 monthly SNAP benefits, when the Social Security benefit cost-of-living increased by 1.7% this year, putting her over the allowed income.
ON A VERY LIMITED INCOME A STRUGGLING SENIOR MUST FIGURE OUT HOW TO EAT AND STILL GET BY. Imagine for a few moments that your total income was from Social Security and the monthly benefit was $1000.
How much of that $1,000 Social Security would you have left after first paying: your rent, utilities (water/sewer/trash, gas, electric, phone), prescriptions, medical co-pays and uncovered services, personal care basics (such as toilet paper, deodorant, shampoo, toothpaste, etc.), stamps to mail in your bills, house insurance and real estate taxes, if mortgaged or owned house maintenance/repairs/upkeep (such as a hot water tank, fridge, stove, washer or dryer goes out), vehicle to go back and forth to the doctor and grocery store in poor condition even if paid for, still requires a drivers license, auto insurance, a tag, gasoline, oil, and basic repair/maintenance, such as a battery, tires and wiper blade replacement, late fees, when you just don’t have enough money to pay the full amount (and yes, this will be often).
- Many Oklahoma seniors skip meals in order to purchase the medication that needs to be taken with food to assure its effectiveness. Older adults spent 13.2 percent of their total expenditures on health—more than twice the proportion spent by consumers overall.
- More than half of all seniors report having to make tradeoffs, many times choosing between eating or paying for prescriptions, transportation to the doctor, rent or utilities (heat and water), etc. Many go hungry.These tradeoffs mean that our older population is suffering as many Oklahoma seniors don’t receive the proper nutrition critical to their health.
- Living close to the edge one may fall behind on mortgage payments or real estate taxes and lose the family home in foreclosure. When the equity in a house may have been their only “savings” it is a hard choice to make: eat or lose the house. Still, a person who worked at a lower paying job may have never been able to buy a home and continues to pay monthly rent. Since the average rent for an apartment, in Tulsa, is $750 that leaves very little to pay for all essentials for the month.
With very little left to buy food for the month some resort to:
- payday loans with Annual Percent Rates of 391% or higher. Oklahoma is No. 1 in Payday Loan Usage – NPR State Impact
- credit card companies that do not receive the minimum payment by the due date may add a late fee of $35 and the APR may be increased to the variable penalty of 29.99%!
- purchasing inexpensive, unhealthy food as they are unable to stretch their dollar far enough to buy enough food to sustain their health, 79% of households report. Processed foods (packaged) may seem cheaper, but can adversely affect health.
HUNGER AFFECTS HEALTH AS HEALTH IS HEAVILY DETERMINED BY WHAT WE EAT. CONSEQUENCES OF FOOD INSECURITY:
A recent study found that food insecure seniors had significantly lower intakes of vital nutrients in their diets. Inadequate nutrition can have long-term consequences, which include a high rate of heart attack, asthma, high blood pressure, diabetes, depression and congestive heart failure.
The health of our older population is suffering. Enough food, and nutritious, health-sustaining food is important in order to reduce the rates of obesity, diabetes and other chronic diseases and the accompanying skyrocketing health care costs. While it is important to everyone, adequate nutrition is especially important to this high-risk population who are particularly vulnerable to disease. Food insecurity among elders increases disability, decreases resistance to infection, and extends hospital stay. Seniors are at increased risk for chronic health condition which can create additional financial strains. Many report having medical debt even with insurance, due to deductibles and uncovered services.
ASHAMED AND EMBARRASSED BY THEIR SITUATION, FEW ELDERLY GO TO A FOOD PANTRY 17% of the clients served by Feeding America are age 60 and over. Most older folks don’t want to admit that after a lifetime of working they are now near poor or living in poverty. A person who worked at a low paying job may not have had the chance to save much to fall back on, in retirement. Many times if they did have savings it was quickly depleted on everyday necessities. Many will never mention the hunger, as they were raised to believe that only lazy people, with no pride, take (what they may perceive as) a handout.
HOWEVER, MANY FACTORS, NOT JUST POVERTY, CONTRIBUTE TO HUNGER
- FEWER NUTRITION PROGRAMS ARE AVAILABLE FOR SENIORS Only one in more than ten meal programs target seniors while nearly one in three meal programs target children.
- MANY CANNOT GET TO A FOOD PANTRY TO RECEIVE FOOD. Life circumstances that prohibit or inhibit an individual’s ability to obtain healthy food include: inability to get to a food pantry due to poor health, limited mobility, lack of transportation, living in a “food desert” (too far from a food pantry), isolation and even shame.
- DENTAL PROBLEMS make it extremely uncomfortable to eat but Medicare, in Oklahoma, does NOT cover a visit the dentist when one simply can’t endure the pain any more. (Nor does Medicare cover a visit to the eye doctor to replace glasses that have broken or weren’t strong enough to see or hearing aids. Many elderly who don’t have money to eat certainly won’t have enough for these “luxuries” and just do without.)
- A widowed person may be going hungry but many times is ashamed and doesn’t want anyone to know.
- There are more than 100,000 widows in Oklahoma. 40% of women in Oklahoma over the age of 65 are widowed and nearly 70% of widows in Oklahoma live alone.
- A lack of money seems to play a bigger part in widows becoming isolated. Many times there is no choice but to decline offers to socialize. A hungry widow/widower receiving the average Social Security benefit does not qualify for food assistance from SNAP, even if they do not have enough to eat. There isn’t money to buy a little extra food to attend a potluck. Many times it is a hardship to buy gas for the car to get to church once a week. Even a small gift for a grandchild’s birthday may be financially outside the realm of possibilities. Feeling ashamed and believing they are the only ones in their predicament further isolates them as they tell no one.
While food can break down barriers, the three hardest words to say are “Please help me“. Yet, we can all do something:
- Now that you know of the problem, is there anything that you, as one person, can think of to do to make a difference in the life of a hungry widow/widower?
- A simple act of kindness can restore hope and bring fresh strength to those who are desperate to believe that someone cares.
- We can nourish their body allowing their minds to be open to nourishment from the Holy Spirit.
- Educating the elderly and their caregivers on how and where they can get help, and if they cannot get there, we need to get it to them. (Help them find out if they qualify for SNAP and helpt them get to a food pantry.)
- Extras from your garden, such as a nice tomato or a cantaloupe can go a long way in helping someone who is hungry. (See ampleharvest.org)
- Delivering food to the Senior low income apartments in RURAL areas (Example: Cushing, though closer to Tulsa is served by the Regional Food bank, not the Eastern Oklahoma Food Bank http://okfoodbank.org/what-we-do/senior-servings Cushing falls under the Regional Food Bank: http://www.aarp.org/giving-back/info-07-2012/aarp-works-with-food-banks-ok1907.html
- Senior Servings appears to deliver in the OKC and Tulsa metro areas. Seniors in rural areas, such as Cushing, desperately need this so that those elderly who cannot make it to the food pantry have food delivered to them.
Give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over, shall men give into your bosom. For with the same measure that ye mete withal it shall be measured to you again. Luke 6:38
“At the end of life we will not be judged by how many diplomas we have received, how much money we have made, how many great things we have done. We will be judged by “I was hungry, and you gave me something to eat, I was naked and you clothed me. I was homeless, and you took me in.”~ Mother Teresa (See Matthew 25:35-40)
- Enough healthy food for adequate nutrition is important, for our Seniors to reduce the rates of obesity, diabetes and other chronic diseases and the accompanying skyrocketing healthcare costs.
- The health of low-income elderly persons, 60 years of age and older, can be improved by supplementing their diets with nutritious foods.
- Individuals, charities, businesses and government all have a role in ending Senior hunger. Each of us can all do something, no matter how small we feel it is.! Working together, we can solve hunger in Oklahoma.
And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from
house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart, Acts 2:46 KJV
Information taken from:
The State of Senior Hunger in America 2012: An Annual Report Prepared for the National Foundation to End Senior Hunger May 2014 Professor James P.Ziliak University of Kentucky Professor Craig Gundersen University of Illinois
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