Two-thirds of Eligible Seniors Have Not Taken Advantage of Basic Food Benefits

Eight dollars' worth of fresh vegetables (shown here) can produce a significant
number of healthy servings. Photo courtesy of Puget Sound Food Network.

The USDA's Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is a strong and effective program that helps people purchase the food they need. People over age 60 pay tax dollars to help sustain the program, but many do not realize they may be eligible to receive Basic Food benefits to help make ends meet.

In Washington state, the program is called Basic Food. Basic Food participants receive a debit card loaded with a minimum of $16 each month to use at grocery stores farmer's markets—$192 extra food dollars per year! According to the National Council on Aging (NCOA), the average benefit for an older adult living alone is much higher—$119/month in 2010 ($1,428 per year).

Deductions for medical expenses and housing costs help to increase the amount of Basic Food benefits seniors receive, yet two-thirds of eligible seniors (5.7 million) do not apply.

How Does Basic Food Help?

  • Basic Food dollars can help stretch a monthly food budget, making it easier for you to pay for other basic needs, such as medications, gas and utilities.
  • Most eligible seniors also qualify for discounts on telephone services or a free cell phone.
  • When Washington's seniors spend federal food dollars, it increases revenue for local grocery stores and farmers markets, creating stronger businesses and a healthier economy.


To be eligible for Basic Food, a household can have income up to 200 percent of the Federal Poverty Guidelines ($1,862/month for a person living alone, and $2,522 for a couple). Asset limits do not apply to households with total monthly income under this limit. Use this simple benefit estimator tool to determine how much you may be eligible to receive from Basic Food. Resources are not counted (e.g., how much money you have in the bank or the vehicle you drive).

How to Apply

  • Online: Visit
  • In person: Visit your local Community Service Office.
  • By phone: Call 1-800-756-5437 (Community Health Access Program—CHAP) for assistance in completing an application over the phone.


Results from a nationwide poll showed overwhelming support for ensuring equal access to produce, as well as support for a nationwide program to double the value of SNAP benefits at farmers markets. (Source: W.K. Kellogg Foundation)


Compiled by Maria Langlais, Aging and Disability Services, from NCOA, Partnership for a Hunger Free Oregon, and Food outreach materials.