NEW JERSEY - With more than 200,000 New Jersey senior citizens living at or near the poverty line, the state must do more to ensure that all those who can't afford enough food get help so they do not go hungry.

The New Jersey Anti-Hunger Coalition, the Community Relations Committee of the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ and other advocates on Tuesday called on legislators to make it easier for older adults to get food aid and unveiled a photo exhibit demonstrating just what senior hunger looks like.

"There are so many seniors who don't eat three healthy meals a day because they can't afford it," said Adele LaTourette, executive director of the NJ Anti-Hunger Coalition. "These people are our parents, grandparents and neighbors, many of whom worked for decades or raised families or both. The least we can do for our elders is make sure they don't have to worry about their next meal. And there are easy steps lawmakers can take to abate senior hunger."

The advocates called for the quick passage of legislation that would make it easier for seniors to apply for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP, formerly known as food stamps, and boost the amount of assistance they can receive. Specifically, the state should:

  • Implement a standard medical deduction for senior and disabled applicants for SNAP, which would simplify the process and could give those eligible as much as $69 more a month;
  • Create an Elderly Simplified Application Project to make applying easier for households in which all members are at least age 60 and have no earned income;
  • Provide a state supplement to senior and disabled households to boost their minimum household benefit to at least $30 per month.

These three changes are crucial to helping all eligible seniors get the help they need. According to data from the US Census Bureau, New Jersey has more than 1.3 million residents age 65 and older. About 16 percent of them, or more than 207,000 people, have income that is less than 150 percent of the federal poverty limit. Only about 60,000 received SNAP last year, the Census estimated.

Mary is one of those. She worked as a psychiatric nurse for over 16 years and loved her job, but was forced to retire in 2004 when she was injured in a car accident. Mary, who lives in Elizabeth, has numerous health problems, including diabetes, COPD, epilepsy and limited mobility. Like many seniors, Mary often has to choose between buying healthy food and paying for her medicines. Mary gets only the minimum SNAP benefit of $16 per month, not nearly enough to be able to afford fruits, vegetables and other nutritious foods. 

“With my food stamp benefits being only $16, sometimes I have to choose between paying for my medicine and buying food,” said Mary, who takes some 13 different medications for her various health problems. 

Mary documented her struggles with hunger in pictures for NJ Soul of Hunger: The Hidden Reality of Hunger Among Seniors and the Disabled. The photo exhibit opened Tuesday at JCC MetroWest in West Orange and will be on display until December 21.

"The Community Relations Committee (CRC) of the Jewish Federation is on the front lines of advocating for more government assistance for the hungry and is stepping up efforts to bring together those within the Jewish community who have seen the face of hunger as a unified voice for change," said Melanie Roth Gorelick, director of the committee. "Providing emergency food, supporting food pantries, running nutrition and feeding programs for seniors is a large component of our philanthropic work implemented by our partner agencies in Greater MetroWest. But food pantries and community kitchens cannot keep up with the demand, nor can charities and faith-based groups sufficiently address this crisis as government dollars lessen."

Joining the call for state action are Jewish Family Service of MetroWest, Jewish Family Service of Central NJ, the NJ State Association of Jewish Federations and MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger. Also present at the event were Assemblywoman Sheila Oliver, D-Essex, and representatives of the NJ Foundation for Aging, AARP NJ, the Community Food Bank of NJ and the Oheb Shalom Congregation and Bobrow Kosher Food Pantry.

The NJ Soul of Hunger exhibit is underwritten by the JBJ Soul Foundation.

The New Jersey Anti-Hunger Coalition is a statewide network of more than 100 organizations working to end hunger in New Jersey through education, advocacy and activism. For more information, Soul of Hunger is a project of the New Jersey Anti-Hunger Coalition (NJAHC) and is funded by a generous grant from the Jon Bon Jovi Soul Foundation.