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New short form makes it easier for seniors to apply for food support (video)

Sue Leal, from Kandiyohi County Family Services, shows the new one-page form senior citizens can use to apply for food support. It replaces a 10-page form. Tribune photo by Carolyn Lange2 / 2

WILLMAR — The process for senior citizens to apply for food support is now shorter and easier than in the past.

A new one-page application for Minnesotans age 60 and older was rolled out this week.

It replaces a 10-page form.

The change was made by the Minnesota Department of Human Services as a way to encourage more seniors to apply for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance program — known as SNAP.

The state estimates that only half the number of seniors who are eligible for the program are currently accessing it.

The Kandiyohi County Family Services office got the new short forms Thursday.

“It’s very simple,” said Sue Leal, supervisor for the county’s food support program. “It’s 13 questions.”

Other than a place for a name, address and basic financial figures, most of the questions are answered with a yes or no.

“They can fill it out in five minutes or less,” said Leal.

Each senior that qualifies for SNAP is guaranteed to receive a minimum of $16 a month. The maximum benefit is $200 a month per person, which is limited to an individual who has no income, said Leal.

Filling out a 10-page form to get $16 may have scared some seniors away from applying, said Leal.

It’s hoped that filling out a one-page form will be less intimidating and that more seniors will participate.

For a senior citizen on a limited income, having another $16 a month to buy fresh fruit, vegetables or staples for making meals can make a big difference in their budget and nutritional health, said Leal.

Better nutrition translates into better health and few health problems and healthcare costs.

“If seniors eat more nutritiously, their medication works more effectively, and their overall health and energy are better. That’s what we want for seniors in Minnesota,” said Minnesota Department of Human Services Commissioner Lucinda Jesson, adding that, “tens of thousands of seniors who need nutritious food could be getting it through SNAP” by using the simplified application forms.

The monthly benefit may be the “the bump they need,” said Leal. “This is an excellent opportunity for them.”

The number of Americans using food support has increased in recent years, in part because of the recession and because of a federal change a couple years ago that allows people to have assets, such as a car or house, and still qualify based on their monthly income.

In the past, people were denied if they had assets of $2,000 or more.

Forms for SNAP can be obtained by going to the county Family Services Department in person, or by requesting that a form be sent by mail.

After the completed application is returned to the county, eligibility workers will conduct a short interview, which can be done in person or by phone, said Leal.

Seniors who are requesting additional services, such as cash and health care benefits, must still fill out the 10-page form but only the short form is needed for food support.

“We applaud the Department of Human Services for working with advocates to understand the unique needs of seniors when applying for SNAP,” said AARP State Director Michele Kimball, in a news release. AARP is the former American Association of Retired Persons.

“Too many seniors across the state who are eligible for SNAP benefits today are not receiving them, and we are hopeful that simplifying the process will entice seniors to apply and get the food assistance they need and deserve.”

The change stemmed from the recommendation of the Nutritious Food Coalition, launched by Lt. Gov. Yvonne Prettner Solon last year.

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for 35 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

(320) 894-9750