Gathering places for seniors ideal for helping them enroll in SNAP

May 7, 2019 | Dr. Scott Morris, Social Reform, Wellness for Life

Your mother told you, “You are what you eat,” and she was right. At Church Health, we embrace the idea that food is medicine. Unfortunately, by watching TV, we could be convinced that without pharmaceutical drugs, we couldn’t possibly live whole, healthy lives.  

I caution you: Many drugs work by preventing your body from doing something it is naturally trying to do. You must be pretty doggone smart to override the body the way God created it.  

Don’t get me wrong. I prescribe pharmaceuticals for patients every day. But if I can treat a problem with food first, that is in the patient’s best interest. Here is a real problem: For many of our frail elderly, drugs are easier to access than healthy food. 

These days, thanks to Medicare Part D and Medicaid, most poor elderly folks have a means to acquire pharmaceuticals. But purchasing food is far more complicated. Here is why. 

In 2019, an elderly person living only on Social Security benefits — very common in Memphis — might receive a maximum monthly payment of $771. The average American spends $550 a month on food. I am sure you see the problem. There are more costs of living than just food. So what do poor people do? They spend as little as they can on everything, including food. 

But if food is medicine, the corollary also applies. A lack of food leads to ill health. In our Church Health clinic, we frequently see older people who are not eating enough healthy food to maintain their health. 

Thank God for the Mid-South Food Bank and MIFA’s Meals on Wheels program! However, both organizations can only partially address the widespread need.  

One government program, however, can help with providing food for our elderly citizens. It is called SNAP. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, the replacement for what had been known as food stamps, allows the elderly — based on financial need — to purchase food in a grocery store or even a farmers’ market. A complicated formula determines a person’s eligibility for SNAP, but once qualified, an individual may receive up to $192 a month in food assistance. Most people get less, but every dollar helps. 

The problem is that in Tennessee, 44% of the frail elderly who qualify for the program don’t even know it exists. I suspect you did not know this either. That is 152,000 people across our state, including many in Shelby County. 

What if every church, everyplace where seniors gather, made sure that those who are eligible get signed up for their SNAP assistance? It would make a difference. It’s not hard, and older folks often need help with things like this. To learn more how to do this, go to the website of the Food Research & Action Center or the Tennessee Justice Center.  

The benefits of food, of course, are more than just the nutrition it provides. Preparing and eating food bring joy, community and fellowship.  

In Memphis, no one should struggle to have enough food to eat. I hope having our frail elderly access food and the benefits of SNAP are things on which we should all agree.

Church Health

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