WASHINGTON – U.S. Rep. Al Lawson (FL-5) and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) introduced the SNAP Standard Medical Expense Deduction Act of 2017, which will offer seniors a standard deduction for medical expenses when applying for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits. The bill would increase food assistance benefits for seniors by $7-$69 a month, and require federal agencies that administer anti-poverty programs for the elderly and disabled to report to Congress on their best practices.
“This bill will provide our elders and grandparents an added benefit that will allow them to keep up with rising healthcare costs without having to worry about buying food,” said Rep. Lawson. “Millions of our seniors face strained budgets and, at times, disability. This legislation eases the burden on seniors and ensures that they are not faced with the difficult decision of choosing between buying food and medicine.”
“I care deeply about making sure that all Americans, particularly our seniors, and our most vulnerable, have access to food,” said Lawson, who serves on the House Agriculture Committee Subcommittee on Nutrition.
Nationwide there are over 45 million low-income Americans receiving SNAP benefits each month, and 30 percent of these households include a senior or disabled member. Despite this great need, this population is much less likely to participate in SNAP than other groups, with only 42 percent of eligible seniors receiving SNAP benefits, compared to 83 percent of all households.
“The SNAP Standard Medical Expense Deduction Act will make it easier for low-income seniors and disabled individuals with high out-of-pocket medical expenses to purchase food for themselves and their families,” said Senator Gillibrand. “We must help lift the burden of these expenses to ensure our most vulnerable elderly and disabled are able to live with dignity and without fear of having to pick between their medical needs and purchasing food. I will continue to fight in the Senate for this legislation that will help New Yorkers thrive.”
“When older Americans can’t afford to purchase adequate nutritious food, their health declines, leaving them vulnerable to chronic diseases, the loss of independence, and expensive medical interventions,” said Lura Barber, Director of Hunger Initiatives, National Council on Aging. “The Standard Medical Expense Deduction for SNAP helps solve that problem by making it easier for seniors to qualify for a higher benefit by using their out-of-pocket medical expenses – which average $4,700 annually for Medicare beneficiaries according to Kaiser Family Foundation. We can all agree that no one deserves to go hungry, and the Standard Medical Expense Deduction will help ensure that more seniors are able to put food on the table every day.”
SNAP provides over 8 million low-income seniors and individuals with disabilities with benefits that they can use to purchase food. Many of these individuals have high out-of-pocket medical expenses that are not reimbursed by Medicare, Medicaid, or other insurance, making it difficult for many seniors and disabled individuals to purchase healthy food and maintain a healthy diet. While the SNAP program allows these individuals to deduct their uncovered medical expenses from their income to calculate monthly SNAP benefits, nationwide only about 12 percent of households with an eligible senior or disabled individual utilize the deduction each year.
This bill is part of a broader initiative that Rep. Lawson has launched called the “Let’s Feed America” campaign to help curb hunger and food insecurity in North Florida and throughout the country.
In Florida’s 5th congressional district the poverty rate for senior citizens is just under 11 percent, one of the highest of any congressional district in the state of Florida. The family poverty rate in the 5th district is 15.8 percent, the second highest in the state. Just over 40 percent of Florida’s elderly population is disabled.