05/18/2012 11:48 am ET Updated Jul 18, 2012

Grandparents Going Hungry

If a society is judged by the way it treats the most vulnerable among them, we may be headed for a failing grade. With Older Americans Month upon us, it should remind all of us that after having worked hard for a lifetime, our seniors should not have to worry about where their next meal is coming from -- however, sadly, that's not the case.

Just consider these disturbing statistics when it comes to senior hunger:

  • In 2010, 7.9 percent of households with seniors (2.3 million households) were food insecure.
  • In 2009, nearly 9 million people over the age of 50 lived in food insecure households.
  • In 2009, nearly 4 million people over the age of 60 lived in food insecure households.

Those numbers are staggering and somewhat shameful. Consider that nearly three million seniors a year are clients of a Feeding America food bank and you can see that there is a large gap in need.

For seniors, protecting oneself from food insecurity and hunger can be more difficult than for the general population. For example, a study that focused on the experience of food insecurity among the elderly population found that food insecure seniors sometimes had enough money to purchase food but did not have the resources to access or prepare food due to lack of transportation, functional limitations, or health problems.

For many, it's a choice of food or medicine. Or food versus rent. It's the type of decisions that nobody should have to make -- especially our seniors. They have already given so much to our society that the idea that they have to struggle to find food should be inconceivable.

Unfortunately, not everyone believes that protecting hunger-relief programs for our seniors is a top priority. In particular, some members of Congress are looking at reducing the funding for the Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP), which provides nutritionally-balanced food packages to nearly 600,000 low-income people each month. Almost everyone who benefits from this program are seniors. However, because CSFP funding must be renewed each year by Congress, it's always vulnerable to cuts, particularly with Congress focused on deficit reduction.

Any cuts would affect many of the seniors living in our communities -- many of your neighbors, church members or friends. For folks like Ola and Alberta, two clients at the Capital Area Food Bank in Washington, DC, the cuts could make having enough food to eat an even more daunting task than it already is. Alberta, who is now retired after spending 45 years working in the government and banking system, can barely get by with the less than $40 a week for food that she gets through SNAP, or food stamps.

After a lifetime of contributing to society, our seniors should not have to choose between filling a prescription or filling their pantry. Unfortunately, many seniors are living on fixed incomes that often force them to make these impossible decisions. But it doesn't have to be this way. As Congress makes tough choices on spending cuts, we urge them to protect and strengthen programs like SNAP and CSFP that help make sure our parents and grandparents have enough to eat.