Federal Food and Nutrition Assistance Programs for Older People

By Wellman, Nancy S.; Kamp, Barbara | Generations, Fall 2004 | Go to article overview

Federal Food and Nutrition Assistance Programs for Older People


Wellman, Nancy S., Kamp, Barbara, Generations


As more Americans live to older ages, demands are increasing on federal food and nutrition assistance programs that help combat hunger, or "food insecurity," and poor diets among this population.

The government appropriates only about $1 billion annually for all food and nutrition assistance programs for older adults, die largest number being funded through the Older Americans Act (OAA). OAA nutrition programs reach only 6 percent to 7 percent of die people who need diem (Wellman, Rosenzweig, and Lloyd, 2002). In contrast, the federal government's Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) alone is funded at almost $5 billion and now reaches 50 percent of eligible women, infants, and children. Both die OAA nutrition programs and wie began in die early 1970s, but the latter has received significant increases in funding, whereas die former have not. This situation has several likely causes, including an early emphasis on WTC outcomes showing significant taxpayer savings and the generally greater compassion for younger ages. In addition, federal programs for elders do not emphasize nutrition and apparendy assume diat five midday meals weekly is sufficient food for all older adults. While the OAA nutrition programs focus on social service aspects, with insufficient input from nutrition professionals, the more medically oriented wie has a strong nutrition component. Some goveminent programs use a higher federal poverty standard to determine eligibility for older adults, tend to serve more younger women, children, and adolescents, and may even exclude equivalent services for older adults.

Most federal food and nutrition programs for older people are under the auspices of either the Department of Heakh and Human Services or the Department of Agriculture. These programs are described below and summarized in the Appendix.

DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES PROGRAMS

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has jurisdiction over three main eldernutrition providers, the Administration on Aging (AoA), the Indian Health Service (IHS), and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS).

AoA programs. The national aging services network of AoA includes 4,400 local Older Americans Act nutrition programs that are funded in part by Title gC of the Older Americans Act. The nutrition programs serve 250 million congregate and home-delivered meals to about 3 million older adults annually. The OAA targets those in greatest economic or social need, with particular attention to low-income minorities and rural individuals. Although OAA nutrition assistance programs are the only ones not means-tested, 84 percent of homebound and 65 percent of congregate-meals participants are poor or near poor.

Aside from Title 3C, several of the six core OAA services are used by many states to support food and nutrition services for older adults. Supportive services (Title 3B) can cover community services such as adult daycare and information and assistance. Title 4, Training, Research, and Discretionary Projects and Programs, supports the National Resource Center on Nutrition, Physical Activity and Aging at Florida International University. The center is the sole university-based source of technical assistance, information dissemination, and applied research directed to assist OAA nutrition programs. Services to Native Americans, Tide 6, funds nutrition and supportive services for the unique cultural and social traditions of tribal and native organizations. Native American elders are among die most disadvantaged groups in our country.

Only about two-thirds of the states employ a nutritionist as part of their State Unit on Aging. Some, but not all, Area Agencies on Aging have a full-time nutritionist or consultant on staff, as do some of the larger local nutrition program providers. Overall, nutrition expertise is quite limited throughout the aging network, despite the fact that almost half of die OAA annual budget is directed to the nutrition programs. …

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