By Representative Andre Carson, (IN, 7th)
One of the greatest crises facing seniors in America, which is frankly not talked about enough, is food insecurity. A study in 2019 found that 5.2 million Americans over the age of 60 faced hunger. During the COVID-19 pandemic, this alarming figure is believed to have climbed even higher.
Unfortunately, this crisis has been years in the making. Food insecurity among seniors is driven by several factors that desperately need to be addressed. The good news is that my fellow Democrats and I are working hard to respond boldly to this multi-faceted problem.
One of the largest predictors of food insecurity, for seniors and Americans of all ages, is where a person lives. Across the country – in cities, suburbs, and rural areas – millions of people live in ‘food deserts,’ where there is a lack of access to grocery stores, making it prohibitively difficult to buy healthy and affordable foods. Many residents, seniors included, are forced to buy food at gas stations, corner stores, or unhealthy fast-food restaurants. To fight this problem, I’ve introduced a bill called the Food Deserts Act. This legislation helps the USDA provide low-interest loans to folks who are eager to open up grocery stores in neighborhoods where they are lacking, including non-profits or co-ops. It also empowers and prioritizes local entrepreneurs over big-box retailers, many of which have abandoned disadvantaged communities. I’m working hard to build support for this bill and get it enacted.
Meanwhile, many seniors can’t easily get to grocery stores that are already close by because they lack access to public transportation. Older Americans desperately need ways to get around their communities that don’t require driving. That’s why I’m pleased that the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which became law last year, is providing nearly $90 billion in guaranteed funding for public transit over the next five years. For example, my home state of Indiana is expected to receive around $673 million in that timespan. This will help my hometown of Indianapolis improve and expand its Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system, which will be a boon for seniors in my community.
Seniors are also feeling the pinch of rising prices, which can be particularly hard for Americans on fixed incomes. To help ease this pain, President Biden has authorized the largest Social Security Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) increase in 40 years. Though this isn’t a complete fix, it certainly helps take some of the burdens off of older Americans as we work to bring down costs for all consumers.
One of those essential expenses we must bring down for seniors is prescription drug costs. The exorbitant prices many older Americans pay for life-saving drugs make it much harder to afford other necessities, like groceries. That’s why the House of Representatives recently passed a bill to cap the cost of insulin at $35 dollars a month. Around 29% of Americans age 65 and older have diabetes, making the need to lower the cost of insulin vital for this group. This bill is a good start, but we need to do even more because it’s clear that when prescription drug costs go down, seniors’ quality of life goes up.
Increasing access to healthy foods is critically important for seniors, and I’m pleased we’re making progress under President Biden’s leadership. I’ll continue doing all I can to help America’s seniors achieve the security and well-being they have earned.
The opinions expressed in “Congressional Corner” reflect the views of the writer and are not necessarily those of TSCL.