When the bus that ferried him to a congregant lunch center for seniors
lost its funding _ a result of the automatic federal budget cuts known as
sequestration _ Wencelao Gonzalez of Miami lost something, too: almost 10 pounds
in less than two months.
"If I'm left alone, I have to remember to prepare something," said the 78-year-old retired bakery plant worker. "I probably don't eat so good."
Gonzalez, who is diabetic and has Parkinson's disease, now eats lunch at the federal hot meals program at the Olga Martinez Center in West Kendall, Fla., only when he can find a ride. The bus that carried him and about 25 other older adults to the center, one of 15 run by the Little Havana Activities and Nutrition Center, is not likely to be reinstated any time soon.
Stories like this one, senior advocates say, are all too common. At a time when the stock market has reached record highs and housing has rebounded, research shows that there are still plenty of people, many of them older adults, who are struggling. Some are going hungry.
"The idea of senior hunger surprises people, but it's very much a reality," said Peggy Ingraham, executive vice president of the National Foundation to End Senior Hunger in Alexandria, Va. "We call them the hidden hungry."
Unlike other groups, she added, "once they draw down their resources, they usually don't have a way to get out."
New reports show that more older adults than previously thought are living in poverty and going hungry. Recent sequester cutbacks _ a total of $85 billion that went into effect March 1 when Congress and the White House failed to reach a compromise on the budget _ have exacerbated the problem by hacking away at senior nutrition programs.
"We're not keeping pace with the demographics or the need," said Max Rothman, CEO at the Alliance for Aging, which covers Miami-Dade and Monroe counties in Florida. "I've never seen anything like it. There's no precedent for this, even during the cuts in the Reagan years."
The number of food-insecure seniors above the age of 60 more than doubled to 4.8 million between 2001 and 2011, according to Spotlight on Senior Hunger 2011, released in May by the National Foundation to End Senior Hunger (NFESH) and Feeding America.
Florida ranks ninth in the percentage of food-insecure seniors, with 16.64 percent of seniors not sure where their next meal is coming from, said Ingraham, citing another report called the Senior Hunger Report Card.
When her organization uses a broader index to include seniors marginally at risk of hunger, the number of food-insecure older adults jumps to 8.3 million. "And there's no reason to expect the trend to change," Ingraham added.
The rate of senior hunger increased over the past decade mostly because of the Great Recession. The growth was most pronounced among those 60 to 69, according to the Spotlight report. Experts speculate that more seniors are retiring with a smaller nest egg and, if working, they experience longer periods of unemployment.
The Spotlight study also found that seniors are most likely to be food insecure if they live in a southern state or with a grandchild. African-American and Hispanic seniors are also almost twice as likely to go hungry, but food-insecure older adults live everywhere _ in North Miami Beach and Florida City, in
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