Right-Wing Media Attacks SNAP Outreach To Elderly Americans

Right-wing media are attacking a program designed to increase awareness of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) among the elderly, saying they hope the effort “come[s] to a quick end.” But SNAP outreach programs have been crafted and employed by previous administrations, hunger is increasing among all groups, including the elderly, and the elderly are under enrolled in SNAP.

Right-Wing Media Attacks Program Designed To Spread SNAP Awareness Among The Elderly

Fox's Kilmeade: Let's Hope The SNAP Awareness Program “Come[s] To A Quick End.” During the June 28 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends, co-host Gretchen Carlson asked “why is the government apparently pushing more Americans to enroll” in the SNAP program. Co-host Brian Kilmeade responded by stating “let's hope it comes to a quick end.” [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 6/28/12]

Jim Hoft: “One In Seven Americans Gets Food Stamps. That's Not Enough For Obama.” In a June 27 post to his blog Gateway Pundit, Jim Hoft highlighted the SNAP program and claimed, “One in seven Americans gets food stamps. That's not enough for Obama. The USDA is urging Americans to throw a party to get more people on food stamps.” [Gateway Pundit, 6/27/12]

The Blaze: “Obama Administration Suggests Parties As Way To Hook Seniors On Food Stamps.” A June 28 Blaze post claimed the Obama administration was attempting “to hook seniors on food stamps” and concluded by claiming “perhaps calling President Obama the 'Food stamp President' might seem a tad less unreasonable.” [The Blaze, 7/28/12]

But Hunger Remains A Serious Issue For Millions Of American Households

USDA: 14.5% Of American Households Do Not Have “Access At All Times To Enough Food For An Active, Healthy Life.” A September 2011 report by the Department of Agriculture (USDA) found that 17.2 million households were food insecure, while 6.4 million households had “very low food security.” From the USDA:

An estimated 85.5 percent of American households were food secure throughout the entire year in 2010, meaning that they had access at all times to enough food for an active, healthy life for all household members. The remaining households (14.5 percent) were food insecure at least some time during the year, including 5.4 percent with very low food security -- meaning that the food intake of one or more household members was reduced and their eating patterns were disrupted at times during the year because the household lacked money and other resources for food. [USDA, “Household Food Security in the United States in 2010,” September 2011]

USDA: In 2010, 16.2 Million Children Lived In Food-Insecure Households. The USDA further found:

In 2010, 48.8 million people lived in food-insecure households (see table 1A). They constituted 16.1 percent of the U.S. civilian noninstitutionalized population and included 32.6 million adults and 16.2 million children (see table 1B). About 8.5 million children (11.3 percent) lived in households in which one or more child was food insecure, 11.3 million adults (4.9 percent) lived in households with very low food security (see table 1A), and 976,000 children (1.3 percent) lived in households with very low food security among children (see table 1B). [USDA, “Household Food Security in the United States in 2010,” September 2011]

Food Research And Action Center: “18.6 Percent Of Respondents Reported Food Hardship” In 2011. A February 27 report by the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC) analyzed Gallup polling data and found that “18.6 percent of respondents reported food hardship.” From the report:

FRAC's analysis for the nation as a whole in 2011 shows that 18.6 percent of respondents reported food hardship that year -- up modestly from the 2010 level (18 percent).


Food hardship rates are too high in every corner of the nation, and the national 2011 rate was higher than the 2010 rate, even though economic growth was picking up. It is crucial that the nation rebuild its economy, strengthen employment and wages, and develop public supports that will dramatically decrease these food hardship numbers and do so quickly. Essential steps include: a growing economy that provides full-time jobs at decent wages, shares prosperity and pulls households out of hunger and poverty; strengthened income supports (e.g., unemployment insurance, TANF, refundable tax credits) that help struggling workers and families; and strengthened -- not reduced, as some in Congress are proposing -- federal nutrition programs (SNAP/Food Stamps, school meals, WIC, summer, afterschool, and child care food) that reach more households -- seniors, children, and working-age adults alike -- in need and do so with more robust benefits. [Food Research and Action Center, February 2012]

USA Today: “More Than 1.4 Million Families Live On $2 A Day Per Person.” From a February 24 USA Today article:

The number of families living on $2 or less per person per day for at least a month in the USA has more than doubled in 15 years to 1.46 million.

That's up from 636,000 households in 1996, says a new study released by researchers at the University of Michigan and Harvard University.

Government benefits blunt the impact of such extreme poverty, but not completely, says one of the researchers, Luke Shaefer, a professor of social work at Michigan.

When food stamps are included as income, the number of households in extreme poverty, defined as living on $2 a day, drops to 800,000, Shaefer says. That's up from 475,000 in 1996. [USA Today, 2/24/12]

And The Elderly Are Under-Enrolled In SNAP

Feeding America: “Just 34% Of The Eligible Elderly Population Participates In SNAP.” On their website the, Feeding America, a domestic hunger relief charity, asserted that “just 34% of the eligible elderly population participates In SNAP.” [Feeding America, accessed 6/28/12]

CBPP: Seniors Are “More Isolated, Often Live Alone...Don't Have Anyone To Help Them Navigate The SNAP Enrollment Process.” The USDA pamphlet quoted a Center for Budget Priorities and Policy senior analyst who stated:

Seniors are harder to reach because they are more isolated, often live alone, and don't have anyone to help them navigate the SNAP enrollment process. They are also more mistrustful of giving out personal information and are potentially too proud to ask for government assistance. [USDA, accessed 6/28/12]

California Food Policy Advocates: Seniors Are “Isolated And Hard To Reach” And Often Party To Misinformation. In a plan to boost access to CalFresh, California Food Policy Advocates, a California state system that distributes SNAP resources, explained:

Seniors are less likely to utilize CalFresh because they can be isolated and hard to reach. The strength of targeting Social Security recipients is that unlike other public assistance programs, there is little stigma attached to receiving retirement benefits. The high utilization rate of Social Security provides a wide base of potential CalFresh recipients. Misinformation is also a key reason that seniors do not apply for CalFresh.[California Food Policy Advocates, accessed 6/28/12]

FRAC: “Older Americans Who Are Eligible For SNAP/Food Stamps Are Significantly Less Likely To Participate In The [Food Stamp] Program Than Other Demographic Groups.” According to the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC), “only one-third of eligible seniors benefit from the [SNAP/food stamp] program.” FRAC pointed to several factors that contribute to the low participation rate among seniors including: barriers in mobility, technology, and stigma, along with the increasing number of myths about how SNAP works and who qualifies. [Food Research and Action Center, accessed 6/28/12]

FRAC: “Seniors Are Less Likely To Be Aware Of Their Potential Eligibility Than The Average Eligible Nonparticipant.” FRAC further explained that seniors often “do not know how or where to apply” for SNAP benefits and are more likely to be uninformed about the Food Stamp Program:

Seniors are less likely to be aware of their potential eligibility than the average eligible nonparticipant.

Two and a half percent of households with seniors do not know how or where to apply, as opposed to 1.4 percent of all households.

In a nationwide survey, respondents from households with elderly members were more likely than other households to consider themselves uninformed about the Food Stamp Program and the application process.

Households with elderly members were less likely than other households to have previously received food stamps, to know anyone who had received food stamps, or to know where to go to apply. [FRAC, accessed 6/28/12, emphasis added]

FRAC: “Stigma Plays A Particularly Important Role” In Seniors Not Participating In Food Stamp Program. From the FRAC website:

Stigma plays a particularly important role. Seniors have cited worries about how they might be perceived by grocery store staff and other shoppers, and about the embarrassment they might feel if family and friends knew they received benefits.

In a national survey of SNAP/Food Stamp households, 76 percent of those with seniors reported feelings of stigma, as compared with 60 percent of households overall.

According to a survey by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) of state SNAP/Food Stamp directors, 67 percent said that a major reason why seniors did not participate was that they felt embarrassed. [Food Research and Action Center, accessed 6/28/12, emphasis added]

Similar SNAP Outreach Initiatives Have Been Used By Previous Administrations

USDA: SNAP Outreach Page Has PSAs And Advertisements Listed From Bush Administration. The USDA page, which includes scripts and audio files for SNAP outreach public service announcements (PSA) and advertisements, has examples listed from December 2008, including three English PSAs, two Spanish PSAs, and 10 “Radio Novelas.” [USDA, 2/16/12]

In 2006, USDA Led Outreach Program To “Reach Key Target Populations” Such As “Seniors” And “Working Poor.” A 2007 SNAP “Fact Sheet” from the USDA's Food Nutrition Services (FNS) outlined the efforts the agency was taking to “ensure that all eligible people, particularly seniors, legal immigrants and the working poor, are aware of and have access to the benefits they need and deserve.” From FNS:

There are many reasons that eligible people do not participate in the FSP, including lack of information, lack of accessibility, language barriers, and the stigma that some associate with food stamps. FNS is making great efforts to ensure that all eligible people, particularly seniors, legal immigrants and the working poor, are aware of and have access to the benefits they need and deserve.


FNS supports its partners and has developed many targeted resources to improve awareness of and access to critical nutrition benefits.

  • “Food Stamps Make America Stronger” is an FNS ongoing national educational campaign to reach key target populations - the working poor, seniors, and legal immigrants. The campaign includes radio advertising; National and State toll-free numbers; and posters, flyers, brochures and other materials. Resources are available in English and Spanish.
  • In FY 2006, FNS awarded more than $1 million to 15 faith- and community-based organizations to conduct food stamp outreach. In FY 2007, FNS awarded an additional $1 million to another 14 organizations.
  • In 2006, FNS awarded a total of $5 million to five States through the program to help increase access. The FSP also awarded $18 million to States for improving access and increasing program participation through performance bonuses. [FNS, 5/31/07]

From 2001-2002, The Bush Administration Spent $8.5 Million On Community-Level Food Stamp Outreach. According to the USDA, the Bush administration spent at least $8.5 million on grants to “community and faith-based organizations” to “reach underserved and hard-to-reach non-participating eligible populations.” From the USDA:

Public education increases awareness of the program and its benefits. Outreach efforts to educate the public occur in offices covering three-fourths of the national caseload. Smaller offices are somewhat more likely than larger ones to conduct outreach. In areas where a large number of outreach models are used, non-participants who are eligible for food stamps are more likely to perceive themselves as eligible.

FNS is committed to ensuring that all persons eligible for the FSP participate. FNS supports the efforts of State and community organizations to reach those eligible for the program and to educate the public about program benefits.

In fiscal years 2001 and 2002, FNS awarded $8.5 million in grants to 33 community and faith-based organizations to educate the public about the program, reach underserved and hard-to-reach non-participating eligible persons, and address barriers to participation. Grantees developed prescreening tools (such as paper forms, software, and Internet-based tools); disseminated information through various media and hotlines; and provided application assistance, transportation, and alternative eligibility process options. [USDA, Making America Stronger: A Profile Of The Food Stamp Program, September 2005, emphasis in original]