Harrisburg, PA – Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding and Aging Secretary Robert Torres today highlighted the Wolf Administration's successful rebrand of the PA Senior Food Box Program in 2021, formally known as the Commodity Supplemental Food Program. Since taking steps to improve access to and awareness of the program, more than 7,100 new seniors have enrolled.
Key to the effort is a partnership between the Departments of Agriculture and Aging that has enabled the Department of Aging's PACE pharmaceutical assistance program to conduct outreach to its enrollees who may also be eligible for the Senior Food Box Program.
"Not being able to serve Pennsylvania's seniors in need of food assistance was not an option," said Redding. "We're thrilled that more than 7,100 new seniors have found value in the food box and look forward to continuing to explore options for improvements to the program in 2022. I want to see every one of our eligible seniors in Pennsylvania have access to nutritious food, it's their right."
While Pennsylvania has funding for a caseload of 36,218 low-income seniors from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), enrollment dropped to 29,000 participants in early 2021 despite Pennsylvania being home to more than 300,000 eligible seniors. With the approved caseload in jeopardy of being reduced by the USDA and Pennsylvania being at-risk of not being able to fully serve the 29,000 enrolled seniors, the Wolf Administration took immediate action to increase awareness and reduce barriers to access for seniors.
Food insecurity and hunger can have harmful impacts on the health and well-being of older adults. Poor food intake can cause nutrition deficiencies that increase disease risk or worsen existing conditions. Consuming fewer calories and nutrients can also decrease independence and the ability to remain home without assistance.
In spring 2021, the Department of Agriculture took the first steps to improve accessibility by renaming the Commodity Supplemental Food Program in Pennsylvania to the Senior Food Box Program to make eligibility clear and removing the requirement for seniors to verify their income to receive a food box.
In July, the Department of Agriculture established a partnership with the Department of Aging to work with their PACE Prescription Assistance Program call center to proactively contact and enroll eligible seniors for the program.
PACE and PACENET assist more than 250,000 older, lower-income Pennsylvanians with obtaining low-cost, life-saving medications. The PACE program estimates that as many as 85,000 of their enrollees are also eligible for the Senior Food Box Program.
"It's vital that seniors can easily access nutritious food to help ensure their health, well-being and independence. Therefore, we must work together to provide options to overcome challenges older adults face in obtaining healthy foods. Since beginning a collaboration with the Senior Food Box Program just six months ago, our PACE program has been able to reach thousands of PACE enrollees who may not have known about this nutrition program's existence, or that they may be eligible. We are pleased with the strong response to this partnership and I encourage all eligible seniors to take advantage of the Senior Food Box Program through the many options available," said Secretary of Aging Robert Torres.
Finally, in September, the Department of Agriculture and Hunger-Free Pennsylvania, the state's partner in administering the Senior Food Box Program, launched a partnership with DoorDash to have food boxes delivered to homebound seniors or those experiencing transportation barriers. The partnership is part of Project DASH, a charitable initiative that connects food banks and food pantries with clients through last mile delivery. Currently, seniors in 11 counties are able to choose to have their box delivered by a Dasher.
The currently enrolled counties include Bucks, Dauphin, Erie, Fayette, Lackawanna, Luzerne, Montgomery, Philadelphia, Washington, Westmoreland, and York. The program remains open to other counties as it continues to grow.
Through these actions in 2021, Pennsylvania is optimistic that it will be approved to maintain its existing caseload by the USDA in the coming year. The Administration hopes to further increase enrollment in 2022 and increase Pennsylvania's caseload to serve even more seniors in need in the coming years.
The Pennsylvania Senior Food Box is a product of the federally funded, state-administered Commodity Supplemental Food Program. It works to improve the health of low-income seniors by providing a supplement to groceries of a variety of nutritious, shelf-stable products including shelf-stable fluid milk, juice, ready-to-eat cereal, rice, pasta, dry beans, peanut butter, canned meat, poultry, or fish, and canned fruits and vegetables. It is administered by Hunger-Free Pennsylvania through their network of 17 food banks providing the Senior Food Box all 67 counties. Once signed up, eligible seniors can choose to receive their monthly box via pick up, drive-through, or delivery from a program partner including senior apartment complexes, senior community centers, and food pantries.
In Pennsylvania, eligible participants for the Pennsylvania Senior Food Box Program include low-income individuals who are at least 60 years old and whose household income is at or below 130 percent of the U.S. poverty level.
To apply, seniors may call 800-468-2433 to be directed to the regional food bank distributing the Senior Food Box in their county. Or go online at www.agriculture.pa.gov/seniorfoodbox and fill out the Senior Food Box Application Form.