A growing number of seniors have now turned to food assistance programs to get the meals they need, according to Mary Johnson, a Social Security analyst with Senior Citizens League.
In a March survey, the nonpartisan group reported 45% of respondents had visited a food pantry or applied for SNAP, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, in the past 12 months. That response grew from just 20% in October 2021.
"We’re just concerned people are not equipped to deal with this. The first thing people experience when inflation hits is a change at the grocery store." Johnson told Fox News.
Nationwide, rising prices have squeezed household budgets and put extra strain on the nation’s 56 million residents age 65 and up, many of whom rely on fixed incomes and limited savings.
For Mary Padula, the past few months have been a struggle. The former grocery store worker said she retired just four years ago and never thought she would need help affording food so soon after leaving the workforce.
"I don’t have the money to buy what I need," Padula said. "I wish I was still working again because it’s so hard to keep going on the way I’m going on."
Padula told Fox Business she now takes advantage of a monthly food donation at the local senior center where she volunteers in Mentor, Oh. As a volunteer, she said she encourages other seniors to ask for help.
"There are so many people going the way you are – don’t ever be ashamed," she said.
Half of older adults who live alone did not have enough money before the pandemic began to cover basic needs, according to the Elder Index, a cost-of-living measure created by the Gerontology Institute at the University of Massachusetts at Boston.
For the 12% of older Americans who rely on Social Security payments, it’s even harder to make ends meet.
The average monthly benefit pays $1,657, which is a 5.9%, or $93 increase, from last year. Despite that Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA), Johnson said inflation has already eaten away the increase.
"By January, inflation had increased 2% faster, 2% more than our COLA," Johnson said, "Inflation has impacted purchasing power, and for many, that means you’re unable to maintain the standard of living that you have."
To get by, Johnson said some seniors will accrue more debt, and many will seek local, state or federal assistance for the first time.