My best friend from the time I was 3 until the end of high school visited me last week. She told me that her brother is having a tough time. His wife has battled cancer for several years. He sold his signage business so he could have the money and time to care for her. But now he's run through that resource. Their retirement income is limited to Social Security, and some months they run out of money for even the basics -- like food.
I asked if they had applied for the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (Snap, the new name for food stamps). She said her brother was too proud to accept this kind of help.
He isn't alone. The U.S. Department of Agriculture, which manages Snap, estimates that only 35 percent of people older than 65 who are eligible for Snap participate. Feeding America, a national hunger relief charity, says the primary reason for this low participation rate is embarrassment, as well as a lack of knowledge about how to apply.
The eligibility rules for Snap differ, depending on where you live. The best place to go to figure out whether you or someone you love is eligible for this and other programs is the National Council on Aging's BenefitsCheckup.org. You can use the Paying for Food search engines on behalf of someone else. But to get a realistic evaluation of eligibility, you'll need to know some very specific information about the potentially eligible person's financial situation. If you don't know these exact details, you can guess and, at least, get some helpful information. In many locales, BenefitsCheckup.org includes details about low-cost and free food programs other than Snap.
Nobody likes to think that their retirement planning will come to this, but for some hardworking people, things just don't work out as planned. Poor health is a huge factor. The U.S. Census Bureau calculates that 15 percent of people 65 and older are living in poverty if you subtract out-of-pocket medical expenses from their income.
It doesn't cost anything to use this BenefitsCheckup.org. If you think you might qualify, don't let pride stand in your way. Check it out.