About five million of the 42 million Americans who rely on SNAP are adults ages 60 and up. Formerly known as food stamps, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program is the largest anti-hunger initiative in the country — and it can be a make-or-break tool for retirees on tight budgets.
The most important considerations for SNAP recipients who are approaching retirement are how their age impacts their SNAP benefits and how claiming Social Security may or may not affect their eligibility to keep collecting food stamps. The most important thing, though, is to separate fact from fiction regarding SNAP and retirement — misinformation is causing millions of seniors to miss out.
First and Foremost, Claim the Benefits You Deserve
According to the National Council on Aging (NCOA), participation in SNAP among the elderly has been steadily increasing for the past decade, which is good news, considering that more than 7 million older adults are experiencing food insecurity.
But despite the upward trend, about 60% of seniors who qualify for SNAP are not enrolled and do not receive benefits. Roughly 5 million older Americans who could be collecting SNAP payments are not.
While some seniors simply might not know that the plan exists, NCOA says that seniors are most likely to leave money on the table because they mistakenly believe one of five most common myths surrounding SNAP.
Although none of the following are true, seniors often believe that:
- SNAP is only available to families with children: It’s not. Anyone who qualifies can receive benefits.
- It’s not worth applying because it only pays $15-$20 per month: The average senior living alone gets $104 — and many seniors get much more.
- The application process is too complicated: Applying is easy and you can get free help completing an application.
- I’ll be taking it from someone who needs it more: The SNAP pie is not finite — any applicant who qualifies will receive benefits.
- I wouldn’t know where to spend it: More than 250,000 stores and farmer’s markets accept SNAP, the country’s largest nutrition assistance program.
Despite the prevalence of the big-five myths, the most damaging misinformation deals with dual enrollment. Many people approaching retirement mistakenly believe that you can’t collect Social Security and SNAP benefits simultaneously.
In fact, the Social Security Administration (SSA) makes SNAP applications available at every Social Security office, even though it’s the USDA that’s responsible for administering SNAP. If your household receives or is applying for Supplemental Security Income (SSI), the SSA will even help you fill out your SNAP application and submit it on your behalf.
Collecting Social Security does not preclude you from receiving SNAP payments, but it’s essential for SNAP recipients who are approaching retirement age to understand how claiming Social Security could affect their eligibility for food stamps.
The USDA uses household size and income to determine SNAP eligibility. The more members a household has, the more income it can earn while still being eligible for SNAP.
The USDA, which lays out those limits on its SNAP Eligibility page, treats Social Security as any other form of income. Therefore, people approaching retirement who currently qualify for SNAP might render themselves ineligible by claiming Social Security if their benefits put them over the USDA income cap for their household size.
SNAP Gets Better as You Age
The USDA has special rules for households that include a disabled or “elderly” person, which the agency generously defines as 60 and up — seven years before full retirement age for most people. Here’s a look at some of the most important special rules for seniors:
- You’re normally not eligible for SNAP if you get most of your meals from an institution. However, elderly residents of federally subsidized housing can be eligible even if they get their meals at the facility.
- A typical household can qualify for SNAP if they have up to $2,500 in “countable resources,” like money in a bank account. If at least one household member is elderly, however, that threshold jumps to $3,750.
- The retirement and pension plans that so many seniors rely on don’t count as income or resources for the purposes of determining SNAP eligibility.
- The USDA’s income limits include different net and gross monthly income thresholds. Most households have to meet both, but households with an elderly individual have to meet only the net income limit.
- Elderly people who spend more than $35 per month on medical care can deduct those costs from their gross income when applying for SNAP. Several other key deductions have special caps for seniors, as well.
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