BUFFALO, N.Y. — Buffalo and Erie County are seeing a big increase in the number of older residents receiving food stamps, though families with children continue to make up the largest group participating in the federal program, according to a report in The Buffalo News.
Households with people 60-years-old or older are now the fastest-growing segment of food stamp participants, the newspaper reported Saturday. Between 2008 and 2012, the number of households with older residents in Erie County that receive food stamps climbed by 61 percent.
"Right now, I don't have food," said 78-year-old Davis Feaster, who signed up for food stamps following the 2008 financial crisis. The widowed, retired plant manager receives $90 in monthly benefits, and turns in bottles and cans for the deposit money. "I'm cashing in my bottles to get food."
The number of seniors receiving food stamps — now known as the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program — has increased in urban and suburban areas, in both poor and middle-class neighborhoods, according to U.S. Census Bureau survey data.
In many cases, older people found they could no longer live on fixed incomes after the recession. In others, they either didn't know they could participate or didn't want to.
"We have found that in some areas, up to 72 percent of older adults who were eligible were not receiving SNAP," said Christine Deska, assistant state director for AARP, which has begun a coordinated effort to encourage eligible seniors to get the benefit. "A lot of outreach is being done to break down the stigma - that's the biggest barrier, along with the challenging application process."
Households with children, however, remain the largest users of food stamps. Nearly one out of four households with a child in Erie County receives the benefit, compared with 11.3 percent of senior households.
Erika Reid, 31, lives in a Tonawanda duplex with a son, 12, and a daughter, 9. She began receiving food stamps in 2006. The former medical technician and manager of a Tim Hortons coffee shop was hit by a drunken driver in 2002 and lost her job following several surgeries. She gets $300 on the ninth of each month, an amount that often runs out before the end of the month.
"I can't make it," she said. "Sometimes it's the 23rd of the month, and I have nothing."