This year, new federal funding will allow senior citizens in Connecticut to have access to more nutritious food.
Connecticut is one of seven previously excluded states to receive funding for the Commodity Supplemental Food Program, a federal initiative created in 1968 to improve nutrition among low-income senior citizens. This funding will support programs that provide packages of healthy food and encourage nutritional awareness among senior citizens.
“Unfortunately, we have found that food insecurity among seniors is on the rise,” said Carrie Calvert, director of tax and commodity policy at Feeding America. “So the expansion of the CSFP into Connecticut could not have come at a more opportune time.”
Congress allocated funding for CFSP, a discretionary program, in its Omnibus Appropriations Bill for 2015. Under the bill, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Maryland, Idaho, Hawaii and Florida will begin receiving CSFP funding.
Through the CSFP, Connecticut will receive food shipments to provide senior citizens with supplemental food packages and $132,803 to cover administrative costs. These boxes are “survival packs for seniors,” said Senator Richard Blumenthal LAW ’73 at a press conference announcing the program. The packages, which seniors receive every month, include fifty dollars’ worth of nutritious, shelf stable foods, including cereal, canned vegetables and evaporated milk.
These foods are often tailored specifically to seniors’ nutritional needs, accommodating diets low in sodium and high in protein, Calvert said. Seniors will also receive nutritional education along with their packages.
Connecticut was first approved for the CSFP program in 2010, when it submitted its written plan to the United States Department of Agriculture, which administers the program. At the time, the state did not receive the necessary funding, and the cause was temporarily abandoned due to a lack of coordinated activism between advocacy groups, said Billy Bromage, a community organizer at the Community Alliance for Research and Engagement and a member of the food assistance working group of the New Haven Food Policy Council. In 2010, the federal government also lacked sufficient funds to support additional states.
The NHFPC took on the task of advocating for funding with Bromage leading the push. Partners included CARE, Foodshare, the Connecticut Food Bank and End Hunger CT, which reached out to the Connecticut congressional delegation to advocate for the cause.
Part of the appeal of the cause was its potential for success, Bromage said, adding that the start of the movement to obtain CSFP funding coincided with impending cuts to SNAP.
“We were losing a lot on the federal level,” Bromage said. “This is something we thought we could win and actually bring some money back to Connecticut for food.”
Ten percent of the Connecticut Food Bank’s clients are seniors, a number that has risen proportionally to the total number of clients they serve. New Haven, in particular, lacks easy access to healthy food because there are few full service supermarkets in low income neighborhoods, Bromage said.
Changes in the economy in recent years have also contributed to seniors’ food insecurities, especially the rising costs of medication and food, Calvert said.
“All these things that families struggle with are worse for seniors on a fixed income,” Calvert said.
In Connecticut, seniors have access to programs such as Meals on Wheels, SNAP, food pantries and mobile pantries at senior centers. However, seniors are statistically less likely to use these services, Bromage said, since they feel stigmatized using food stamp cards or waiting in line at a food pantry.
The CSFP may be able to overcome this obstacle by distributing food at senior centers, Bromage said, which might normalize the experience.
“[The CSFP] is a less stigmatizing way to get emergency food than other things available to seniors,” Bromage said. “They can get food [at places where they are] already going and trust.”
The funding will be received by the Connecticut Department of Social Services, and the program will be implemented by local food banks, which will receive bulk shipments of food to be divided amongst the packages. Foodshare will manage distribution in Hartford and Tolland counties, while the Connecticut Food Bank will manage the other counties.
Despite the fact that Connecticut will be receiving funding for the first time, food advocates worry that it may not be enough. The program is underfunded nationwide, Calvert said, and the number of food insecure seniors is much higher than the number enrolled in the program.
Connecticut will only receive enough funds to take on a caseload of 2,400 senior citizens, said Tracy Helin, member services director at the Connecticut Food Bank. Foodshare will distribute to 800 people while the Connecticut Food Bank will distribute to the remaining 1,600. However, the number of eligible seniors far exceeds that — the Connecticut Food Bank alone serves approximately 50,000 seniors, which does not fully capture the number of food insecure seniors in the counties that it serves.
The Connecticut Food Bank is still determining the best way to decide who will be included in the program, Helin said. He noted that, due to the paperwork and guidelines required for the CSFP, the food banks will most likely partner with agencies who already have an intake and application process for their clients.
“It is a small number of seniors compared to the need in the state,” Bromage said. “But the people it impacts, it impacts a lot, and our work absolutely continues.”
Once the size of the waitlist is determined, a coalition of food advocates and senior citizen representatives will be convened to continue pushing for more funding, Bromage said. Helin added that state discussions with the federal government could result in more funding in the future.
In 2013, over 579,000 people participated in the CSFP each month.