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How Nevada is attempting to tackle the growing food insecurity crisis for seniors

Population of Nevadans aged 60-plus is expected to grow 36 percent in the next decade. Those who will need food assistance could reach 100K by 2025.
Kelsea Frobes
Kelsea Frobes
older woman shopping for apples at an outdoor market

With pandemic-era public benefits ending and high prices on groceries, officials are sounding the alarm about a growing number of Nevada seniors going hungry. 

CEO Beth Martino of food security nonprofit Three Square and Marie Baxter with Catholic Charities of Northern Nevada said a reduction of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) — or food stamp — benefits as well as inflation are  contributing to the post-pandemic increase in food insecurity among the state’s older residents.

“I think the senior crisis is truly its own sort of silent pandemic,” said Baxter, whose organization offers food pantries, home meal deliveries and other services. “And food insecurity is just one tiny, tiny piece of the massive crisis that we are seeing for seniors, …  there are also a lot of unscrupulous people that take advantage of seniors who are vulnerable.”

Her comments came during a recent meeting of the Nevada Silver Haired Legislative Forum, when agencies including the Nevada Division of Public and Behavioral Health (DPBH), the Governor's Council on Food Security, Nevada Medicaid and the Division of Welfare and Supportive Services came together to discuss how their respective programs are addressing the worsening food insecurity crisis that is affecting older Nevadans.

More than 35,000 Nevadans aged 60 and older and almost 44,000 Nevadans aged 50-59 were food insecure in 2021. Black and Latino senior Nevadans were disproportionately more likely to experience food insecurity compared with the overall senior population; the condition was almost four times more likely for Black senior Nevadans, and three times more likely for Latino Nevadans, according to Sarah Rogers from DPBH.

Older adults who are food insecure consume lower quantities of the key nutrients they need such as iron and protein and are “more likely to have chronic health conditions,” Rogers said. She noted that food insecurity is a strong predictor of poor health, including heart disease, stroke, lung disease and diabetes.

Along with a lack of funding needed for partners to supply food to seniors, barriers hindering them from accessing food include poor health, lack of support, challenges with transportation and fixed incomes. Seniors aged 60 or older who have a disability are two times more likely to face food insecurity than those without a disability, and adults 50-59 with a disability are three times as likely to face food insecurity than those without. 

Baxter wants seniors to know that it’s “OK to ask for help” and that “often when we're working with seniors, they've done everything right. They worked hard, they raised their families, they had a plan for their retirement or their golden years, and the world has shifted in ways that I don't think any of us really anticipated.” 

What government agencies are doing

In 2023, DPBH updated its Food Security Strategic Plan, which includes five pillars that aim to aid populations facing food insecurity. Among these are a “feed” pillar, with the goal of Nevada having an “efficient logistics, distribution, transportation, and storage system,” as well as a “growth” pillar that focuses on “supporting the expansion of state or local programs that promote the consumption of locally produced agriculture.”

The Governor’s Council on Food Security is working to oversee the implementation of that strategic plan and to develop an annual food security conference. Allison Genco, the chair of the council, said that these conferences aim to bring partners together to “talk through long-standing issues and create initiatives to continue to move the needle on food security.”

Although Nevada Medicaid serves 1 in 3 Nevadans, Kirsten Coulombe, social services chief with the Division of Health Care Financing and Policy, says that Medicaid only offers food services to those who are “unable to prepare or obtain nutritional meals without assistance,” which does “not necessarily [include] every senior.”

Meals from Medicaid are limited to two per day with either a breakfast and lunch option or a lunch and dinner option. 

During the meeting, Coulombe also mentioned that Nevada Medicaid stopped utilizing the home- and community-based section of the American Rescue Plan on March 31 of this year, and is now absorbing the costs previously covered by pandemic aid into its budget. 

“We felt it was important to keep those home-delivered meal services available to individuals on the elderly waiver, but in terms of permanently adding it, that would be the budget initiative that we would require and then a budget initiative to increase the rate over what it is currently,” Coulombe said. 

Currently, the Division of Welfare and Supportive Services is working on a waiver so that it can start accepting food stamp applications over the phone as well as a restaurant meal program that allows elderly, disabled and unhoused individuals to use their electronic benefits cards at participating restaurants. 

Kelly Cantrell, deputy administrator with the Division of Welfare and Supportive Services, said that there are approximately 501,000 individuals currently receiving SNAP benefits in Nevada, including more than 77,000 seniors aged 60 and older. 

Outside of government resources, nonprofits such as Three Square and Catholic Charities offer programs that aim to tackle food insecurity for senior citizens.

Among Three Square’s programs, “Golden Groceries” is designed to reach people who are 60 and older. A large facet of the program is having pantries designed just for seniors to come in and shop. Martino says that Three Square stocks these pantries with food that is specific to the nutritional needs of the senior community; Golden Groceries can also be delivered directly to seniors. 

Three Square partners with public libraries to provide a hot meal during the weekdays. According to Martino, the program started because library officials were concerned about seniors becoming isolated coming out of the pandemic. This program not only offers seniors a hot meal, but also provides an opportunity for them to socialize.

Three Square also operates a call center through which seniors and others can get a ride to Three Square at no cost. The call center can assist seniors in applying for or making changes to other programs, such as Medicare. 

Martino says that Three Square’s mission is to provide food to those that need it and to “engage in work that will lead to a hunger-free community.” Three Square serves four counties: Clark, Lincoln, Nye and Esmeralda.

Martino says that because of the size of Three Square’s facility, it is able to get larger quantities of food that smaller food pantries might not be able to accept. Last year, Three Square distributed about 45 million pounds of food across Southern Nevada through a network of more than 150 nonprofit organizations that work to serve those in the community who are food insecure.

Baxter, with Catholic Charities, said her organization also offers a range of programs for seniors, such as food pantries, home deliveries, a home modification program that aids older adults stay in their homes longer, and a program that helps them apply for benefits that assist with their specific situations.

Seniors can visit Catholic Charities food pantries twice a month and receive a 65-pound box of food each time that they come. These boxes include shelf-stable items as well as fresh food such as fruits, vegetables, meat, dairy products and eggs. The senior home delivery program consists of health and welfare checks as well as immunizations. 

Baxter said that the home modification program is for seniors who are in need of repairs or modifications such as grab bars, ramps, or removal of trip hazards such as old carpet that would help them stay in their homes. These repairs are provided at no cost to the senior.

Baxter said that in order to enroll in federal benefits, seniors meet with a Catholic Charities benefits enrollment specialist to assist in covering their financial needs. Baxter described this as a great program because these benefits “free up their Social Security dollars” to help with things such as rent, additional food resources, paying for medications and more.  

Although “Northern Nevada” may be in the name, Baxter says that her organization assists everyone in Nevada outside of Las Vegas. 


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