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AL WARD

Seniors will be watching closely as Congress engages in ongoing federal budget and policy deliberations in the coming months. At AARP, we will continue to monitor any proposed changes to Medicare, Medicaid (including long-term care benefits), Social Security, and other programs that so many of us, our children and grandchildren rely on to maintain the our health and dignity.

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as food stamps) can be a critical piece of that equation for many Montana seniors. In fact, more than 30 percent of all SNAP recipients in Montana are in families with seniors or people with disabilities, and 4.8 million seniors benefit from the program nationally. Roughly three-quarters of these seniors live by themselves.

The difficult reality is that despite lifetimes of work and contributions to their families, communities, and this state, too many seniors in Montana have limited and fixed incomes and struggle to keep up with the costs of medication, housing, utilities, and food. For these seniors, the modest benefits provided by SNAP supplement their incomes and help them afford adequate and nutritious diets.

Remarkably, the benefits of SNAP extend beyond the basic dignity of an adequate diet. Research has shown that SNAP recipients report better health than other low-income individuals not on SNAP, and seniors receiving SNAP are less likely than low-income non-participants to have to forgo medicine due to costs. Some research even suggests that SNAP may help seniors live independently and avoid hospitalization. In total, adults on SNAP incur roughly 25 percent less per year in medical care costs than low-income non-participants. That’s not just good news for SNAP recipients; that’s good for all of us concerned about the growing costs of health care.

This year will be an important year for SNAP, as well as other food programs that assist seniors, American Indians, and other food insecure Montanans. The Farm Bill, through which Congress sets federal agricultural and food policy – including for SNAP and other food programs — is up for reauthorization in 2018.

Given the drastic cuts to SNAP included in the president’s recent budget proposal, as well as efforts to cut and restrict access to SNAP in previous Farm Bill negotiations, we could once again see very real threats to the program in the coming months. Protecting SNAP is essential to give our seniors and their caregivers dignity, security and peace of mind. As Congress sets its agenda for the coming year, we truly urge Montana’s congressional leaders to remember them and keep SNAP safe from cuts.

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Al Ward of Billings is AARP Montana state president, leading an all-volunteer executive council that provides state-level strategic direction for AARP. He is also a veteran and serves in the Marine Corps League.

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