MiCAFE SERVES ELDERS ONLINE LINKS TO FOOD STAMPS, NUTRITION

Aging Today, September/October 2006 | Go to article overview

MiCAFE SERVES ELDERS ONLINE LINKS TO FOOD STAMPS, NUTRITION


Doris Duggan, now in her late 705, has lived a life rich with experiences, with years spent in California and Hawaii, a career in the theater, a starring role in a play she wrote-and even a stint serving as a nurse's aid to Mother Theresa after eye surgery. Despite this wealth of memories and skills, though, when Duggan returned to Charlotte, Mich., in recent years to be close to her daughter, she found herself struggling to pay for her 11 medications and still maintain a healthy diet. Duggan is one of 1,700 low-income elders who have found help though Michigan's Coordinated Access to Food for the Elderly (MiCAFE).

"Having enough to eat is a basic human right, and good nutrition can dramatically improve the health and wellbeing of elders," stated Kate White, executive director of Elder Law of Michigan, in Lansing, which created MiCAFE in 2002. The program, which has been replicated in eight Michigan counties, helps elders apply for food stamps and receive a nutritional assessment, along with counseling referrals for improved health and stress reduction, White said. The program also aids older adults in applying for Medicaid and gaining access to other community-based supports, such as chore services, home-delivered meals or in-home assistance.

ASA AWARD WINNER

MiCAFE, one of six programs to receive the American Society on Aging's 2006 Healthcare and Aging Award, sponsored by Pfizer's Medical Humanities Initiative, operates with funding from Michigan's Office of Services to the Aging, Department of Human Services, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), and several foundations and other supporters.

The core innovation of MiCAFE is its online program, which simplifies the otherwise complicated and lengthy paper application for food stamps. Trained volunteers, called application assistants, help older adults determine what benefits they might receive, then assist them with completing and submitting the proper forms. Of those assisted through mid2006, White said, 69% qualified for benefits averaging $70 per month. This program has brought $787,000 of new federal money annually to Michigan and MiCAFE communities. Once approved, an older person receives a special debit card that he or she can use at grocery stores without the stigma of food-stamp coupons.

Critical to the success of MiCAFE has been an agreement by USDA to waive its required in-person interview with a caseworker. White explained that many elders were unwilling to participate in these interviews because of limited transportation and difficulty getting to the agency's downtown building, as well as "embarrassment and the feeling that it was more trouble than it was worth." Now, MiCAFE clients only have to travel to their local senior center to apply for assistance.

Each county participating in MiCAFE designates particular caseworkers to receive all of the program applications, an arrangement that minimizes processing errors as caseworkers become knowledgeable about elder-specific rules, which differ from those for younger food-stamp applicants. White added, "Caseworkers also become more aware of and sensitive to the special needs of elders." In addition, MiCAFE sites help elders apply for benefits in languages ranging from Spanish to Arabic.

EFFECTIVE COMMUNICATION

MiCAFE staff learned early in the project that when working with low-income, inner-city elders, material needs to be written at a fourth-grade or sixth-grade reading level to ensure comprehension. …

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MiCAFE SERVES ELDERS ONLINE LINKS TO FOOD STAMPS, NUTRITION
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