New Castle News

Closer Look

July 29, 2013

More seniors could be taking advantage of programs

CNHI —

Hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvania seniors are going hungry even though there are government programs that could be helping them put food on the table. That information comes from the state AARP.
The Pennsylvania chapter of the AARP has launched an effort to use the organization’s volunteers to encourage seniors to apply for food stamps, a government benefit that many seniors spurn, said Bill Johnston-Walsh, state director for the AARP.
The AARP estimates that almost 350,000 seniors in Pennsylvania do not always have enough money to buy food. The organization has first focused its campaign in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, said Johnston-Walsh.
The senior advocacy group plans to take the campaign across the state in 2014, Johnston-Walsh said.
“It’s an issue in the rural areas. It’s an issue across the board,” he said.
Vivian Adams, a senior citizen who was chatting Friday at the Firehouse Marketplace, an antique shop in Selinsgrove, said that she would be unlikely to apply for food stamps even if she qualified.
“I’d always be afraid that I was taking something that someone else needed more,” Adams said.
Johnston-Walsh said the campaign is being launched at a time when many of the safety net social programs intended to help feed seniors are struggling to stay afloat. Those struggles have only become more difficult as sequestration cuts in federal spending have forced many Meals on Wheels programs across the country to keep seniors on waiting lists or reduce the number of days they serve food.
Kristen Mack, director of a Meals on Wheels program in Johnstown that serves about 300 people, said she’s been warned to brace for sequester cuts. Mack said the organization has yet to see any reductions in federal aid, but already the Meals on Wheels effort has had to make changes to cope with rising costs. The Johnstown program still serves five days worth of meals a week, but those meals are only delivered three days a week to save money on gas, Mack said.

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