Severe Disability Puts Households at High Risk of Hunger

Responding to one of my food stamp posts, Dianne comments, “I am over 65, SSI/Social Security and get $143 a month food allotment. And the last week have nothing. Tea, sugar and do without!”

A recent report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture shows she’s far from alone.

The researchers looked at households where a “working-age” member had a disability — in other words, an adult between the ages of 18 and 64. But this is a mere technicality because Dianne may not be much older.

The food insecurity rate for the target household group was about twice that of households that had no working-age disabled member, according to their responses to the Census Bureau’s 2009-10 surveys.

These, however, were not all households where the adult in question was too severely disabled to work, as Dianne may be, since she’s receiving SSI (Supplemental Security Income) benefits.

About one in three households in this group were food insecure, i.e., couldn’t always afford enough of the right kinds of foods for everyone to eat healthfully.

More than half of these — 17.3% — had what USDA calls “very low food security.” They’re households like Dianne’s, where at least one member recurrently went hungry.

This acute food insecurity rate, as I prefer to call it, was nearly four times greater than the rate among households that included no disabled working-age adult.

Well, SNAP (food stamp) benefits are supposed to protect against hunger — indeed, to provide “a national nutrition safety net.” They obviously don’t, though we’d have vastly more — and worse — hunger without them.

One reason is that not all households stalked by hunger get them. This is apparently the case for households the USDA study focused on.

Slightly under a third of households with a severely-disabled working-age adult participated in SNAP, even though special rules tend to make them eligible at higher gross income levels and, in some cases, with no asset limit.

Of those who did, 31% suffered from acute food insecurity anyway.

The USDA report understandably bypasses the possibility that SNAP benefits are just too low for recipients to get through the month without running short.

It does, however, flag some factors that may disproportionately affect people with disabilities, e.g., difficulties getting to a grocery store and/or preparing meals on their own.

Recall that the Thrifty Food Plan — the current basis for food stamp benefits — assumes that recipients will make many of their meals from scratch.

SNAP also assumes that households will have 30% of their own income to supplement their benefits. This, as the Food Research and Action Center has said, is an outdated assumption.

But it’s perhaps especially out of sync for households that include someone with a severe disability.

On the one hand, both SSI and SSDI (Social Security Disability Insurance) benefits are very low.

For SSI, the average for someone who isn’t elderly is $525 a month, according to a new fact sheet prepared for the Center on American Progress. For most, it’s their only source of income.

The average for SSDI recipients — mostly people who used to work, but are now too disabled to do so — is about $1,129 a month. It drops to $962 a month for those who were formerly low-wage workers.

Some of these recipients undoubtedly live in households where another adult works. But as the USDA report notes, the working member’s earnings may be lower than they’d otherwise be because of the time needed to provide care.

At the same time, expenses for households with a disabled member are often unusually high. There are health care costs, of course, and perhaps home care for help with daily personal needs.

There may be costs for adaptive equipment like a wheelchair or a special type of telephone. Costs for an emergency alert service.

A study the USDA report cites found that someone with a disability that limited work for a year or more would need nearly three times the income of someone with no work-related disability to have the same food insecurity rate.

We see this finding play out in the analysis itself. Even with incomes three times the federal poverty level, 13% of households with a severely-disabled working-age member were food insecure.

USDA concludes that “public and private food assistance programs tailored specifically to households with members who have disabilities may be necessary to substantially reduce their food insecurity.”

No argument here. But we’ve clearly got a bigger fix needed than specific tailoring, since more than half of all households with SNAP benefits are nevertheless food insecure.

Reforms to bring SSI benefits into the 21st century would help too.

14 Responses to Severe Disability Puts Households at High Risk of Hunger

  1. zoom314 says:

    If one lives in CA and gets SSI, one does not get any SNAP benefits, this is cause of a disagreement on three ideas, 1. who manages SNAP in CA(CA or USDA/SSA) and 2. who gets SNAP benefits in mixed eligibility houses, CA is wanting to allow people who live alone in CA to receive SNAP and to exclude those who don’t, USDA/SSA said no to this and so there are No SNAP benefits for those who get SSI in CA and 3. CA does not want to administer SNAP cause it’s a cost the state doesn’t want. I’ve been getting SSI since 2003 and I’ve not received any SNAP benefits at all, I’m 53 and severely disabled.

  2. Kathryn Baer says:

    Thanks for calling this unique situation to our attention. Your comment triggered a brief research expedition. So now I know something I didn’t know before. Grateful for that.

    As I understand it, California adds a state supplemental payment to SSI benefits. The SSP is supposed to substitute for SNAP. As you say, this saves administrative costs. On the other hand, it provides SSI beneficiaries with more cash income than they’d otherwise have.

    It’s not clear to me whether the SSP now is equivalent to what beneficiaries would receive if they got SNAP benefits instead. I do know that California has reduced the SSP. Congress has thus far let SNAP benefits continue to rise to keep pace with food prices.

  3. zoom314 says:

    The SSP in CA is fixed at $156.40 a month, it’s been said elsewhere that the SSP would be reduced by $10 a month if SNAP benefits were given to SSI recipients. I get $866.40 a month currently, I do live on My own, but I can not do more than fix My car, as replacing the car would require money in a savings account and I’m limited to $2,000.00, this also stops Me from getting the mobile home a/c working($3,000.00) or replaced($6,000.00) and so I use a swamp cooler in the desert to try and stay cool with a water pump that is not quite good enough(the pump will be replaced by Me in August on the 1st), I’m in debt by $300 and so until I pay that off somethings just can’t be done and others would need to be fixed by Congress or maybe by an executive order to Social Security…

    I have more to worry about than a mere $10, when Repub Paul Ryan wants to cut SSI by 12.5% in FY2014, He’s tried to do this since 2011 in His insane and uncaring Prosperity Budgets(cut, cap and balance, part 4) and the proposed cuts have ranged as high as 31% and capped at 2007 levels(2013 $710 max vs 2007 $623 max per month from SSI funds), it’s not like it would effect the deficit(SSI was at or near $44 Billion in 2013), it would just harm Seniors, the Blind and Disabled People who are unable to work as I am, so the fight goes on and the Nov 2014 election is pivotal as that election is for control of Congress itself and Repubs would then be unrestrained the US Senate in their craziness if Repubs are victorious.

  4. Kathryn Baer says:

    No argument from this quarter. I’ve trashed on the Ryan budget plans before, but didn’t pay as close attention as you have to the SSI part. Thanks for the details. And I do hope you can get functioning a/c soon.

  5. zoom314 says:

    Thanks Kathryn Baer, right now the area is having a downpour from a Thunderstorm, later.

  6. […] reports one of my blog followers, s/he can’t get the air conditioning in her mobile home repaired […]

  7. Wendy Wyatt says:

    I have been on disability for years. I have a very complex medical history. Nowadays I am in a power wheelchair. I get $733 SSI. My rent in a handicap accessible HUD senior apartment is $525 of that. My SNAP is $91/month…..which is 98 cents per meal. Lately I am at wit’s end. I am struggling on every level. Why is disability not enough to live on? What are we supposed to do?

  8. Kathryn Baer says:

    Thank you for sharing this information, Wendy. You ask a fine question. I’m somewhat puzzled though. I thought that apartments HUD subsidized were supposed to cost households in them 30% of their income. Is your apartment not in public housing or a unit with a Section 8 (Housing Choice) voucher? If not, what makes it HUD?

  9. Wendy Wyatt says:

    This is called a flat rent apartment. If people here are older than me, they get substantial income tax rebates for living here. I WISH all places went by the 30% rule. As of right now, it’s approximately an 8 year wait for section 8 and almost that long to get into a 30% rent apartment. The web page says….Income Requirements: 48% or lower of the median area income. It’s run by Utah Non-Profit Housing Corporation. The HUD symbols are all over the place on their site and on the forms here. Did you know that in Utah, people can be kicked out with only 3 days notice? Yikes!

  10. Kathryn Baer says:

    You’re telling me about something I never heard of–the flat rent and income tax rebates, I mean. So much to learn….

  11. Wendy Wyatt says:

    After poking around on the internet and my paperwork, I believe this is Section 236 housing. Our flat rent for everyone in the building is $525. Fair market rents around here are $727/month for a 1 bedroom. Folks have to be 65 or older to get the tax rebate on their rent.

  12. Kathryn Baer says:

    I’d come to the same conclusion. So what you’re charged is what’s also called basic rent. Haven’t been able to find anything about a tax rebate for seniors.

  13. Wendy Wyatt says:

    I guess this is it. Info is very hard to find. I am 59…..a baby at this place. Most folks go to the senior center for food and info. I am too young. You have to be 62 for the senior center and 65 or 66 for the renter rebate.

  14. Kathryn Baer says:

    You’ve been so helpful, Wendy. Now I understand that the refund is for all relatively low-income seniors. In the District of Columbia, where I live, there’s something somewhat similar. But it’s not age-restricted.

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