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PA works to improve senior food access, hosts listening session


York, PA – First Lady Frances Wolf, Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding and Aging Secretary Robert Torres joined a group of older Pennsylvanians at Crispus Attucks Active Living Center in York to hear their first-hand experiences with Pennsylvania’s food assistance programs – they shared what they enjoy, what could be improved, their ideal program offerings, and barriers to knowledge of or access to programs.

“We have made great progress in ensuring Pennsylvania’s seniors have access to nutritious foods, but there are still challenges like transportation and general awareness of food assistance that need to be addressed,” said First Lady Wolf. “One of the best things that we can do is hear from our senior community directly, so that we can make the needed adjustments to our programs, removing the barriers between them and healthy food options.”

The Wolf Administration has long focused on improving food security for all Pennsylvanians. That focus strengthened as Pennsylvania bore the weight of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 and now works towards recovery. However, as food banks adapted throughout the pandemic to mitigate against the risk of COVID-19, seniors in need were the beneficiary of program improvements that reduced barriers to access such as delivery and drive-through.

The listening session hosted served as an opportunity to hear pandemic stories from seniors who rely on various food assistance programs – such as the Senior Food Box Program – and learn ways to continue improving the delivery of food assistance programs to seniors, remove road blocks for receiving food and improve awareness of programs available to seniors in need.

“Our older Pennsylvanians should not have to face hunger on their table – there are programs available to put healthy, nutritious food on their tables instead,” said Redding. “Hearing their first-hand experiences with these programs is critical to improving access, reaching more seniors in need, and, most importantly, destigmatizing acceptance of programs.

“Stigma is a detriment to the health and wellbeing of older Pennsylvanians who have lived long lives contributing to our commonwealth, and it’s a critical barrier that we must overcome. Good food is not only nutritious and energizing, but it’s a comfort we all deserve.”

Recently, the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture rebranded the Commodity Supplemental Food Program to the Senior Food Box Program and removed the requirement to provide documented proof of income when applying to receive the box. This was an effort to address known barriers to access the program by giving it a name that resonated with those who are eligible and reducing stigma and red tape by removing income verification requirements. More than 300,000 older Pennsylvanians are eligible to receive the box, however only 35,000 are enrolled in the program.

“Supporting older adults with their nutritional needs is critically important to help maintain their health, well-being and independence. This session gave us a valuable opportunity to hear and learn directly from seniors on their experiences with Pennsylvania’s nutritional programs. It also enabled us to assess how we can better meet the needs of seniors by increasing access to and improving services of these nutritional programs,” said Aging Secretary Robert Torres.

Food insecurity and hunger can have harmful impacts on the health and well-being of older adults. Poor food intake can cause nutrition deficiencies that increase disease risk or worsen existing conditions. Consuming fewer calories and nutrients can also decrease independence and the ability to remain home without assistance. However, seniors often face barriers to access for food assistance programs such as mobility, technology, and stigma.

If you’re a senior experiencing hunger or know a senior in need, there is help available:

  • Pennsylvania Senior Food Box Program: Available for anyone age 60 or above whose household income is at or below 130 percent of the U.S. poverty level. That totals $16,744 annually for a household of one, or $22,646 for a household of two. To apply, seniors may call 800-468-2433 to be directed to the regional food bank distributing the Senior Food Box in their county. Or go online at agriculture.pa.gov/seniorfoodbox and fill out the Senior Food Box Application Form.
  • Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program: Available for anyone age 60 or above whose household income is at or below 185 percent of the U.S. poverty level. That totals $23,828 annually for a household of one, or $32,227 for a household of two. Eligible seniors should contact their local Senior FMNP Agency for information on how to receive vouchers.
  • Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP): Formerly known as food stamps, SNAP aids low-income Pennsylvanians, allowing them to purchase produce and groceries. SNAP is issued through a monthly payment to an electronic benefit transfer card, and benefits are based off income and household size. People can apply for SNAP online at www.compass.state.pa.us online at any time or by phone at 1-866-550-4355.Those who prefer to submit a paper application can print from the website, pick one up at a County Assistance Office (CAO), or request an application by phone at 1-800-692-7462 and mail it to their local CAO or place it in a CAO’s secure drop box, if available. You do not need to know your own eligibility in order to apply.

For more information about food assistance resources for people around Pennsylvania impacted by COVID-19 and the accompanying economic insecurity, visit the Department of Agriculture’s food security guide.