Senior Nutrition is the Best Medicine

Recently, after my DC trip for the NANASP Conference, I was asked to write an article for One Away; Campaign for Elder Economic Security. We spent two days talking to members of Congress, their staff and numerous others about cost-savings support services provide to Americans; and how essential it is that we protect funding for Older Americans Act (OAA). Everyone I spoke with understands the importance of senior nutrition programs; and agrees there is a connection between senior nutrition, which is the best medicine to maintain health and independent living; and savings to taxpayers by preventing unnecessary hospitalization or institutionalization. Bill and Sonia are a couple I met a few months ago and their story is anyone’s story and illustrates best OAA’s impact.

A Senior Community Centers’ social worker discovered them earlier that morning while participating in a count of homeless in downtown San Diego. A fire had destroyed their apartment, leaving them with nothing but the clothes on their back and a car.

The lack of proper food had worsened Sonia’s dementia, leaving her confused and very weak. Our kitchen immediately prepared two hot meals with extra portions that were devoured with an intensity magnified by starvation. Bill, tears streaming down his face, hugged me and said, “I’m supposed to take care of Sonia, and I couldn’t even feed her. Thank you.”

I truly wish that Bill and Sonia’s story was rare, but it is not. Senior Community Centers’ homeless program, which includes 35 units of transitional housing, is doing—unfortunately—a booming business.

The lack of adequate income for our senior population is a real and growing issue. In California, 1.76 million seniors (almost half) fall below the Elder Index, which measures what it takes to have basic needs—housing, food, health care, and transportation—met.

Nationally, according to Wider Opportunities for Women (WOW) which helped develop the Elder Index, the level of income adequacy ($20,326 for an individual) is twice that of the Federal Poverty Level ($10,830).

These numbers explain why folks like Bill and Sonia are failing. Working hard all your life and then not being able to afford a place to live or to properly feed yourself takes a human and economic toll. Frankly, that cost is too high and, as a nation, we must do better.

First and foremost, we owe this generation a debt of gratitude that can never adequately be repaid—they fought wars and built this country.

Reauthorization of OAA is scheduled for July 26. Read Bill and Sonya’s full story, Senior Nutrition: Outstanding ROI for the Wise Member of Congress

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