Governor Bullock has just announced the state will enter the second stage of reopening starting June 1. We have a long, slow recovery ahead of us and thousands of our neighbors are unable to afford the food they need.
At Missoula Aging Services (MAS), we’ve seen first-hand how difficult this crisis has been for older Montanans, especially those already struggling with limited resources and for those who have lost their jobs. We have seen a significant increase in demand for our Nutrition Services since the start of the state’s Stay-at-Home order in March.
Many of our older neighbors, who are the most vulnerable to the coronavirus, often live alone and some are unable to receive assistance from friends or family due to social distancing.
John is one of many MAS clients who depends on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) to remain safe, healthy and independent in his own home. He is diabetic and lives on a fixed income of Social Security benefits. If it wasn’t for SNAP, he would have to choose between food and paying his bills and medications.
SNAP provides a safety net so John can afford to maintain his good health by being able to afford healthy food and his medications, both of which are integral in treating his diabetes.
While Congress has taken many important steps in response to COVID-19 with the House of Representatives most recently passing the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions Act (HEROES Act), we must do more to support the wellbeing of our communities in the difficult months ahead.
One crucial step is strengthening SNAP, a program proven to boost the economy and reduce hunger. We ask that Congress increase SNAP benefits by 15% and increase the minimum SNAP benefit from $16 to $30, in order to keep our older neighbors healthy and nourished during the duration of the economic crisis.
According to the Montana Department of Health and Human Services’ Kids Count Survey, SNAP benefits were often inadequate even prior to the pandemic, averaging just under $4 per person per day. Statistically, older adults are also less likely to take advantage of these benefits even when they qualify.
Some 1.8 million households across the nation receive the minimum SNAP benefit of $16 per month, and the majority of these include older adults according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. During this time of crisis and social distancing, older Montanans are at even greater risk of food insecurity. Family members may be keeping their distance out of fear of spreading the virus to loved ones, and church and Senior Center community luncheons are on hold.
Food banks are also stretched to the limit, as they attempt to serve thousands of additional families and workers in need of assistance, many for the first time. Furthermore, grocery store food prices jumped by 2.6 percent in April, the largest one-month increase in more than 45 years.
For the average Montanan on SNAP, a 15 percent increase in benefits would mean an additional $24 per person each month to spend on food. The money spent through SNAP also supports stores and local businesses, helping to secure the jobs of Montana’s farmers and frontline grocery store workers.
According to USDA, every dollar in new SNAP benefits increases Gross Domestic Product by about $1.50 during a weak economy. By raising SNAP benefit amounts, Congress can take swift action to stimulate the economy, while improving the lives and well-being of millions of our most vulnerable citizens across the country.
We ask our Congressional delegation to immediately move to increase the SNAP benefits in order to boost our state’s economy and keep older Americans healthy and nourished. By helping people who need it most, we can begin to rebuild an even stronger and healthier Montana.
Susan Kohler is CEO of Missola Aging Services; Larry Riley is the board chair of Missoula Aging Services