Two years ago at age 62, Susan Jefferson did something she never dreamed of doing. She applied for food stamps.
“It’s nothing I am ashamed of. I worked all my life, and now I need help,” she said.
With degrees in social work and community service, being on food stamps wasn’t the future that Jefferson imagined for herself. But when bills stacked up and the Social Security check wasn’t enough, Jefferson made the decision.
“It was a real cushion; it allowed me to get a vehicle. I had the money for a car payment,” the Longview woman said.
Jefferson is just one of hundreds of senior East Texans who have applied for food stamps in the past five years.
According to information from the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, there are 111 percent more food stamp recipients in Gregg County between the ages of 60 and 64 in 2012 then there were in 2008.
The total number of recipients of any age in the county increased 53 percent.
In Rusk, Upshur, Harrison and Gregg counties, the 60- to 64-year-old age range saw an 81 percent increase in the number of food stamp recipients in the same 2008-12 period.
The term food stamps now refers to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program distributed by the Texas Health and Human Services Commission through a Lone Star Card.
The card can be used at a cash register like a debit card to pay for purchases.
When Jefferson first applied, she was given almost $200 a month. That amount has been reduced to $40 a month.
Kristin Barnhart, resource navigator at East Texas Aging & Disability Resource Center, said the growth in number of senior recipients of food stamps is not surprising.
Her agency works to connect senior citizens with the agencies that provide support services, Barnhart said.
“Probably 25 percent of those people that contact us are people that need some kind of services. Seventy-five percent need some financial assistance, whether it be food, food stamps or anything else.”
The increase of residents age 60 to 64 in Longview who receive food assistance is on pace with state numbers.
The Texas Health and Human Services Commission reported a 106 percent jump in people in their early 60s receiving food stamps. There are 85,000 members of this age group in the state receiving assistance.
Gregg County had 219 recipients between the ages of 60 and 64 in July 2008. In July of this year, the county reported 464 beneficiaries.
The Texas Health and Human Services Commission also reported a 23 percent increase in the number of recipients older than 65.
“Things are so twisted now. We are losing more and more benefits, people are becoming more and more dependent. It’s really kind of discouraging,” Jefferson said.
Barnhart said several factors are leading to more senior residents needing assistance.
“When you look at it as a whole, it is just the era that we live in. There is a big misconception that you have worked and have saved your whole life and you should have this big nest egg. The income we received has not kept up with the cost of living,” Barnhart said.
Barnhart also believes that for some aging parents, their children’s financial difficulties have influenced their retirement possibilities.
“Many of these senior citizens are having to help their children with this nest egg,” Barnhart said.
The golden years are not nearly as golden as Jefferson had envisoned.
“I thought there would be more Social Security...I didn’t think I would need food stamps. I would just use Social Security and that would be enough,” Jefferson said.