The Great Struggle of Seniors Living on SSI and SSP in California

The effects of budget cuts made during the Great Depression era still affect the health and wellness of our community today.

During the peak of the Great Depression from 1929 to 1933, benefits for supplemental security income (SSI) recipients were reduced dramatically. In those desperate times, the federal government had to do whatever it could to right the ship and pump money back into the nation, and the SSI program took a major hit.

Today, the repercussions of this decision are still felt at home and abroad by some of the country’s most at-need and at-risk individuals. Seniors, in particular, feel the devastating impacts of these cuts on a daily basis.


Right now, seniors relying on SSI and state supplementary payment (SSP) in California have incomes that are, on average, below $877 per month. As a frame of reference, the federal poverty level for a single person sits at $981 per month, and the state benefits come up over $100 short of that mark. There are approximately 1.3 million low-income seniors and people with disabilities living in California today, making this a serious problem statewide.

These affected individuals need to pay for food, rent, transportation, utilities on this meager assistance program, but the state’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, aka Food Stamps) is not available to them. This puts them in a serious bind!

They need food, but their funds are already depleted due to the cost of living (in San Diego, fair market rent for a studio apartment is $964/month–more than the maximum benefits allowed!). The state cannot dole out any more assistance to help them make up the difference.

This reality puts them at a serious risk of homelessness, malnutrition, and hunger.

And while the situation is in need of reform, there are organizations working in the county and beyond to reduce the effects of the state’s current benefits structure.

IVfoodbankMission Support Grantees Dreams for Change and Interfaith Community Services are currently collaborating with  Rancho Santa Fe Foundation to form North County Senior Connections (NCSS). NCSS takes their services directly to the seniors via the Thyme Together food truck.  The collaborative healthy aging program effectively provides a mobile senior center with discounted lunches, activities, social events, and more to the vulnerable seniors in the community.

Launched in November 2014, North County Senior Connections’ Thyme Together food truck has already achieved great success, providing over 2,400 fresh, healthy meals to more than 300 vulnerable seniors in San Diego County during the six months following its inception.

In addition, Mission Support grantees such as ElderHelp, Meals-on-Wheels, the LGBT Center, and Bayside Community Center are doing their part to help alleviate seniors’ struggles.

ElderHelp provides a variety of reduced-cost, personalized services and resources to help seniors remain independent and live proudly in their own homes. Meals-on-Wheels, the LGBT Center, and Bayside Community Center are more food-focused, each delivering services in creative and efficient ways that provide our community’s seniors the food and nutrients they need.

MicheleSilverthornWhile these initiatives provide a much-needed boost to those in need, they currently serve only a small percentage of the affected population. We need to bring this type of service and charity throughout the rest of the region, helping to decrease that figure—1.3 million—looming overhead.

What can you do to help make a difference in your community today? How can you help seniors who face a daily struggle to get the food they need, when they need it?

I’d love to hear your ideas. Leave a comment, and we’ll talk about how we can come together and make a change.

– Michele Silverthorn, Program Officer, AHF

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