According to a 2010 study by UCLA Professor Imelda Padilla-Frausto, seniors in California need incomes at least twice the federal poverty level to make ends meet. And it wasn’t until 2019 that low-income seniors and people with disabilities in California became eligible to receive food stamps from CalFresh.

UCLA Professor Kathryn Kietzman, who studies health equity, said the great thing about free meal programs funded by the federal Older Americans Act is that there are fewer barriers to eligibility. Seniors with incomes just above the poverty level often don’t qualify for public programs but have needs that they can’t fulfill without help, she said. These struggling middle-income seniors, whom Padilla-Frausto calls the “hidden poor,” may be forced to choose “between how much food they get every month and how much medication they’re able to get every month,” said Kietzman.