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Food Security and Older Adults

March is National Nutrition Month – a time to focus on the importance of making informed food choices and developing sound eating options. At the Department of Aging, we are committed to ensuring older Pennsylvanians have access to nutritious foods to assist them in living happy, healthy lives.

Recently, I joined secretaries from several state departments to advocate against federal cuts in food assistance programs in the commonwealth. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits about 300,000 older Pennsylvanians. Any potential cut threatens not just those recipients, but other vulnerable members of their households. For example, among nearly 89,000 households in Pennsylvania where grandparents are caring for about 100,000 grandchildren, 20 percent of these grandparents are living in poverty.

Older adults who are food insecure have diets that are less nutritious, experience worse health outcomes, and are at higher risk for health problems such as heart attack, diabetes, high blood pressure, asthma and depression. In contrast, older Pennsylvanians who can afford adequate nutritious food because of their enrollment in SNAP are healthier, have less hospitalization and are more likely to be able to stay living independently in the community.

The Department of Aging collaborates with the Department of Human Services to increase senior participation in SNAP, but we also support several other initiatives to increase food security for older Pennsylvanians.

Our department annually provides approximately nine million meals through congregate and in-home meals throughout the commonwealth. The Department of Aging works, at the local level, through our Area Agencies on Aging to provide these home-delivered meals and meals at senior centers. Many of our Area Agencies on Aging also collaborate with the Department of Agriculture to offer Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program vouchers to help seniors purchase fresh foods.

Nutrition screenings offered at our Area Agencies on Aging and senior centers help to determine if an older adult has nutritional need due to changes in eating habits or weight, lack of sufficient nutrients, difficulties eating, lack of money to buy food, or the inability to shop, cook, and/or feed themselves.  Individuals with nutritional needs truly benefit from programs like SNAP, in-home meals, congregate meals, Senior Farmers Market Nutrition vouchers and others meant to help keep them healthy at home.

I recently went before the House and Senate Appropriation Committees to discuss the Department of Aging’s budgetary needs. A portion of the discussion included an $8.1 million increase that Gov. Tom Wolf is proposing for the OPTIONS program. This is a home and community-based services program that provides and prioritizes meals as part of its service offerings.  The governor’s proposed budget will help us to serve more seniors with the proposed increase.

As we strive toward our vision of a Pennsylvania where older adults are embraced and empowered to live and age with dignity and respect, it’s our job to make sure that their quality of life is not challenged by food insecurity as they continue to live and contribute to our local communities.



Robert Torres
Secretary of Aging
Department of Aging Discusses Mental Health Issues among Older Adults and People with Disabilities

Pennsylvania Department of Aging Secretary Robert Torres led a roundtable discussion in coordination with Governor Tom Wolf’s Reach Out PA: Your Mental Health Matters initiative. The discussion aimed at reducing stigma and understanding mental health issues and service needs of older Pennsylvanians and people with disabilities.

Sec. Torres, who chairs the Long-Term Care Council (LTCC), hosted the roundtable as part of the LTCC’s daylong meeting. He was joined by long-term care consumers, advocates, caregivers, providers, and policymakers, including state lawmakers who sit on the council.

According to a 2017 study from the University of Southern California, approximately 1 million adult Pennsylvanians struggled with serious psychological distress at least once in 2015. Of those adults, more than 27 percent had an unmet need for mental health care. That population includes 42 percent who did not receive mental health care because they could not afford it.

Governor Wolf’s Reach Out PA initiative is a multi-agency effort and anti-stigma campaign aimed at expanding resources and the state’s comprehensive support of mental health and related health care priorities in Pennsylvania. Reach Out PA will address many recommendations for improving mental health services laid out by the Council on Reform, created last year by the governor’s executive order to protect vulnerable populations.
In addition to a series of Reach Out PA roundtables, Gov. Wolf introduced an online form for public comment on needs, barriers, and access. Since the form posted, more than 3,500 Pennsylvanians have provided feedback and insight.

Happy Retirement to Holly Lange

Following February’s Long-Term Care Council meeting, Department of Aging Secretary Robert Torres presented council member Holly Lange with a letter from Governor Tom Wolf, congratulating her on her retirement after three years on the council and 32 years with the Philadelphia Corporation for Aging.
Holly has worked to help older Philadelphians through her tireless advocacy as Chief Executive Office and President at PCA since January 2013. She joined the agency in 1988 as Deputy Director before serving as Senior Vice President and Chief Operating Officer.

Prior to working for the Philadelphia Corporation for Aging, Holly worked for the Pennsylvania Association of Area Agencies on Aging, served on various nonprofit boards and Pennsylvania government committees, chaired the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging 2015 conference in Philadelphia, and received the 2018 LGBT Elder Initiative “A Cause for Applause” advocacy award.
Najja Orr, (pictured right) PCA’s current chief strategy officer, will succeed Holly as CEO and President on April 3. Najja joined the organization in 2017 to lead the agency’s strategic planning and communications. Previously, he served as director of the Bucks County Area Agency on Aging for 15 years.

Najja is also the chair of the PCA Care Connections and formerly served as the board secretary and southeast regional representative for the Pennsylvania Association of Area Agencies on Aging.
Congratulations, Najja and best of luck in your new role. Thank you, Holly, for your dedication and service to older Pennsylvanians.
2020 Census is Coming!

The 2020 Census date is fast approaching, and we’re helping you to ensure everyone is counted. Here are some important Census 2020 dates to keep in mind:
  • March 12-20 – Households will receive an invitation to respond online to the 2020 Census (some households will also receive paper questionnaires).
  • March 16-24 – Reminder letters will be mailed by the U.S. Census Bureau.
  • March 26 – April 3 – Reminder postcards will be mailed to non-respondents.
  • April 1 – Census Day across the United States
  • April 8-16 – Reminder letter and paper questionnaire will be mailed to non-respondents.
  • April 20-27 – Final reminder postcard will be mailed to non-respondents before Census follows up in person.
  • May-July – Census takers will go door-to-door to the homes of non-respondents. 
How Your Organization Can help
  • Include Census messages in talking points, news releases, presentation and events.
  • Add Census messages and alerts to existing mailings, newsletters and forms.
  • Post information on your employee intranets.
  • Distribute flyers and hang posters in high-traffic offices, service centers and venues.
For more information, including downloadable resources, visit
Hot Off the Press: 2020 Benefits and Rights Book for Older Pennsylvanians
Pennsylvania Department of Aging Secretary Robert Torres announced the release of the 2020 Benefits and Rights for Older Pennsylvanians, the commonwealth’s premier guide for information and resources on the state and local levels.

The book covers a multitude of topics including:
  • Housing
  • Insurance
  • Legal Services
  • Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program
  • Protective Services
This year’s book also features a message regarding the upcoming 2020 Census and the importance for older adults to make sure they are counted.

Older Pennsylvanians can obtain the 2020 Benefits and Rights book at their county Area Agency on Aging and the office of their state senator and representative.

The House and Senate only had three session days during the month of February. No Aging related legislation was considered.
  • The department had its House Appropriations budget hearing on Tuesday, February 18 and its Senate Appropriations budget hearing on Monday, February 24. Legislators focused on the projected increase in the older adult population, the governor’s proposal to allocate $8.1M to address the OPTIONS waiting list, protective services, and the Lottery Fund.
  • On Friday, February 21, the House Aging and Older Adult Services Committee hosted a hearing on a package of bills aimed at addressing elder abuse. The department participated in the hearing along with other interested stakeholders. The bills discussed were:
    • House Bill 397 (Masser) – Amends the Health Care Facilities Act to allow residents or a representative of a resident to place electronic monitoring devices in a room with appropriate notices and consent of the facility and other residents.
    • House Bill 398 (Day) – Amends the Older Adults Protective Services Act to add a definition of financial exploitation and establish the Older Adult Financial Exploitation Trust Fund.
    • House Bill 399 (Culver) – Amends Title 18 (Crimes and Offenses) to create the offense of “financial exploitation of an elderly or care dependent person.”
    • House Bill 400 (Klunk) – Amends Title 18 (Crimes and Offenses), regarding abuse of a care dependent person, to include a misdemeanor offense for abuse via social media.

  • House and Senate Appropriations budget hearings conclude the first week in March. Both the House and Senate will be back in session March 16 - 18 and March 23 -  25.
  • The department is working with Representative Boback to introduce legislation that would update the Pennsylvania Family Caregiver Support Act. Our amendment would remove the aggregate average requirement for all Caregiver Support Program cases and remove the statutory monthly care plan cost cap and the cap on assistive devices and home modifications. Instead of stating a monetary amount in the statute, caps would be set by the department.
  • On Tuesday, March 17, the Senate Aging and Youth Committee will host an informational hearing on the Caregiver Support Program. The department, Cumberland AAA, and Blair AAA will participate in the hearing.
  • On Thursday, March 19, the House Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness Committee will have a hearing on Representative Barrar’s House Bill 863. The bill would create an instant lottery game to benefit veterans. The department is not participating in the hearing, but it is always interested in legislation that would impact the Lottery Fund.
Fighting to Preserve SNAP in Pennsylvania

March is National Nutritional Month, and there are nearly 300,000 older adults and about 690,000 people with disabilities in Pennsylvania who rely on the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) to access nutritious food. Yet the federal government is threatening to make cuts to the program.

Department of Aging Secretary Robert Torres stood with other department secretaries and representatives from various charitable food networks to oppose the administration’s proposals to devalue SNAP.

The two proposed rules and third that was finalized are:
  • Abled-Bodied Adults Without Dependents – this will go into effect in April. This restricts states’ ability to determine which counties can be waived from work requirements for able-bodied adults without dependents. This rule change would jeopardize access to SNAP for more than 92,000 Pennsylvanians, many of whom struggle with mental health, substance use disorder and other long-term conditions that would be worsened by chronic hunger.
  • Broad-Based Categorical Eligibility – proposal would eliminate BBCE, a policy that gives states the flexibility to determine appropriate income thresholds and extend SNAP to low-income families and people who would otherwise struggle to afford food. Eliminating BBCE also impacts the ability for low-income children to receive free and reduced-price school lunches.
  • Heating/Cooling Standard Utility Allowance – proposal would alter the method Pennsylvania uses to determine the SUA for SNAP recipients, negatively affecting about 775,000 households in the commonwealth.
Sec. Torres, along with department secretaries, believes these recently introduced federal rules would cause families to suffer from hunger, charitable food networks to strain to meet increased demand, and retailers and food producers to lose profits and experience a more constrained customer base.
Aging Sec. Robert Torres joins other department secretaries and food bank representatives for a news conference on preserving SNAP benefits in Pennsylvania.
The council update document has been revised to include all current council, workgroup, taskforce, and advisory board activity and is available on the Publications & Reports section of the aging website.
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