BY Leah Mishkin, Correspondent, NJTV| 

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Volunteers at Center for Food Action’s location in Saddle Brook are bagging emergency kits for people in need of food. Normally, clients come in once a month for groceries. Advocate Grace Brockel says more than 50% of the people they see are seniors.

“Many of the seniors who come in don’t reach out to family members. Many of the children don’t even know it’s difficult for them to make ends meet,” said Brockel. “They have their Social Security income, several have small pension, many are on disability and they’re not able to make ends meet.”

But recently released data by the Food Research and Action Center shows in 2015, only 48% of eligible New Jersey seniors — those 60 or older — participated in SNAP, the federal supplemental nutrition assistance program which gives people funds to buy groceries.

That means 137,000 New Jersey seniors are able to get help, but they aren’t using the federal resource available to them.

“A lot of times, first of all, we have with the older adult population, sometimes they don’t want to accept government assistance, so we have to break through that wall. And then just as I said, them not knowing how to apply, so making sure that we’re doing enough, public education that the program exists and what the eligibility requirements are,” said Melissa Chalker, executive director of the New Jersey Foundation for Aging.

To figure out if you’re eligible is not so simple and might factor into why more seniors aren’t taking advantage of SNAP. You have to determine household size, gross monthly income, subtract 20% earned income deduction and the list goes on. A senior has to provide a number of documents to prove eligibility.

“It’s hard for seniors to get to the county offices. It’s hard for seniors to get all the verifications together. It’s just a complicated program. Let’s make it simple,” said Adele LaTourette, director of Hunger Free New Jersey.

LaTourette says there are a couple different ways to make the process more simple.

“The state is looking into elderly simplified applications, which would be wonderful, because again, they’re simplified. And we also can ease verifications by having something called self-declaration, which basically means that seniors can tell you what certain costs are, not everything, but certain costs instead of having to rummage around trying to find paperwork,” LaTourette said.

LaTourette points to Massachusetts, which is working on a “SNAP Gap” campaign.

“They’re basically trying to fill the difference between people on Medicaid and people on SNAP,” she said. “Those two populations are the same people.”

Until then, programs like Center for Food Action will continue to provide food and resources.