Additional Issues

Raise the Minimum Benefit in the SNAP Program for Elders and Increase Access

A study conducted by the University of Kentucky Center for Poverty Research and Iowa State University reveals that relative to their representation in the overall older adult population, African Americans, Latinos, never-married elders, renters, and elders living in the South are more likely to be at-risk of hunger.

At the same time, elders have the lowest participation rate and lowest benefit levels of any group that qualifies for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly called Food Stamps). Elders have lower SNAP benefit levels than younger recipients for two main reasons. First, many elders are eligible for only the minimum benefit, which is $16/month. Second, the process for documenting out-of-pocket expenses, which is used to determine eligibility, is burdensome and confusing. As a result, over 75 percent of elders claim $0 in medical expenses, which we know is not accurate. The minimum benefit needs to be raised and a standard medical deduction must be established for elders, allowing those with high out-of-pocket expenses to claim their true medical costs, and therefore increase their benefit levels. States should take steps to simplify the application process, and improve education and outreach.

Increase Asset Limits for Public Assistance Eligibility

Public benefit programs—like Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and Medicaid—limit eligibility to those with few or no assets, making it more difficult for people to build assets over the long-run. Families with assets over a state’s limit must “spend down” savings, for example, in order to receive benefits, which actually increases their economic vulnerability. In some states, owning a vehicle worth more than $5,000 disqualifies a person from eligibility, yet research indicates that owning a car increases the probability of employment. Increasing asset limits allows low-income people to have a cushion to survive emergencies and enables them to begin to develop emergency and retirement savings and accumulate assets, so that they escape poverty for good. Increasing asset limits would particularly help diverse populations, who are disproportionately reliant on public benefits due to historic and structural barriers.

Increase Access to Tax-Deferred Savings

Just 33 percent of Latino workers and 49 percent of African American workers had access to a workplace retirement plan in 2009. In order to help the next generation of diverse elders become more economically secure, new retirement savings tools must be implemented for all workers, but most especially low-income workers who normally do not work for businesses that offer retirement benefits. Scaling and sustaining incentives like matched savings accounts, linked to financial education, would be a first important step. Extending payroll retirement savings opportunities—through proposals such as an Automatic IRA plan—would also help remedy this situation. The Automatic IRA plan requires employers (with more than 10 employees) that have been in business for at least two years but do not offer a retirement plan to automatically enroll their workers in a Roth IRA. Plans like these usually require 3 percent of pay to be withheld from employee paychecks and directly deposited into their accounts as the default savings option. (Employees can opt-out, but these plan encourage savings by making the enrollment process easier.)

This excerpt is taken from Securing Our Future: Advancing Economic Security for Diverse Elders, by the Insight Center for Community Economic Development. Read the full report >>

DEC Supports Inclusive Immigration Reform

The elder population is growing exponentially, and becoming increasingly diverse. Today, one in five older adults is Latino or non-White, and there are at least 1.75 million lesbian, gay, and bisexual people 65 and older.By 2030, the number of adults of color is projected to be almost one in three, and the population of lesbian, gay and bisexual individuals is expected to double. Older immigrants and diverse elders are more vulnerable, isolated and face greater barriers to accessing services than the general older adult population. As such, immigration reform presents a key opportunity to strengthen our programs and policies to better support older immigrants.

Read DEC’s full statement on Inclusive Immigration Reform > >