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The Gerontologist 48:235-244 (2008)
© 2008 The Gerontological Society of America

Falling Through the Social Safety Net: Food Stamp Use and Nonuse Among Older Impoverished Americans

Esme Fuller-Thomson, PhD, MSW1 and Melissa Redmond, MSW1

Correspondence: Address correspondence to Esme Fuller-Thomson, Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work, University of Toronto, 246 Bloor Street W, Toronto, Ontario M5S 1A1, Canada. E-mail: esme.fuller.thomson{at}

Purpose: Older adults are less likely than any other age group to use the federal Food Stamp Program. The personal and social costs of elderly diet insufficiency include disease exacerbation, depression, and increased hospitalization. In order to improve targeting and outreach efforts, this study identifies the characteristics of eligible older Americans who are not receiving food stamps and assesses the validity of the Andersen behavioral model for predicting impoverished older adults food stamp use. Design and Methods: We conducted a secondary analysis of the 2003 American Community Survey, which is a nationally representative survey with a response rate of 96.7%. We restricted our study subsample to the 14,724 impoverished American citizens who were aged 65 years and older. We used bivariate and logistic regression analyses to compare the 2,796 food stamp recipients with the 11,928 nonrecipients. Results: One in five impoverished older American citizens had received foods stamps in the preceding year. Female respondents, renters, younger respondents, disabled individuals, and those who received Supplemental Security Income or welfare were more likely to receive food stamps. The pseudo-R-square value indicated that the Andersen Behavioral Model explained 28% of the model's variability. Implications: Improved targeting is needed to enhance older adults' participation rates. Mobile and satellite food stamp offices in lower income neighborhoods and other innovative outreach programs that collaborate with community partners could also improve access. With the vast majority of impoverished older adults not receiving food stamps, strategies such as these are extremely important to rectify this situation among the most vulnerable group of older Americans.

Key Words: Access • Andersen Behavioral Model • Food Stamp Programs • Poverty • Social Welfare Programs

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Copyright © 2008 by The Gerontological Society of America.