Some seniors on Social Security ‘eat cat food’ to survive

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SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 News) – In the next 50 years, the share of Utahns 65 years and older is projected to increase from the current 1 in 10 to 1 in 5.

When it comes to Utah’s age structure, it’s getting older due to the aging of the Baby Boom, increasing life expectancy and fertility rates which have been declining since 2008. This is according to numbers provided by the Pam S. Perlich, the Director of Demographic Research at the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute at the University of Utah.

With people living longer it’s creating budgeting concerns especially for seniors living on social security.

“My amount is about $1,500 a month,” said Maria Garcia, 64 years old. “If you go back and just think about when I was working, I was making $2,800 a month.”

ABC4 was first introduced to Maria while covering a story on the importance of generic medication while on a fixed budget.

During that initial interview on Wednesday, Maria shared a startling revelation.

“I’m sure there are thousands if not millions of seniors in this nation that are like me that can’t afford their medication that either get their medication and eat cat food,” she said.

When ABC4 visited with Maria on Friday, she explained further. “Some say ‘Well, it’s starting to taste more like tuna.’ Or, they add something to it to make it have a little more flavor,” said Maria. “They already have a cat at home. So, they can buy a case. They have a can for each meal. Whether or not they have something to go with it at that point isn’t important to them in their minds because they figure they’re getting the nutrition that they need from the cat food.”

Maria clarifies she’s never eaten cat food to survive, but it’s heartbreaking to hear that some of her friends are. “If I didn’t have my family I don’t know where I’d be. I’d be in a box under a bridge.”

Maria, 64, shares she’s been diagnosed with several illnesses. They include heart disease, diabetes, and COPD.

She says living on Social Security especially if you’re sick is nearly impossible.

“At $1,500, by the time you pay rent which is $600. My portion of gas, lights, food, cable. You know just the small little things, I’m down to $400 maybe $300 leftover.”

Maria says she often has to choose between which medicines she can afford each month.

“My prescriptions run around $115 to $120 a month. That’s for a 30-day supply.”

Despite her hardship, Maria knows there are other seniors in a more dire situation. “I’m one of the lucky ones. Some people that I know make in the $700. How do you make it on $700?”

Maria shares how it makes her feel. “Angry first because I’ve worked all my life and I’ve invested so much into this system that is supposed to take care of their senior citizens. Then shame. I’m ashamed that I can’t do things on my own. I’m embarrassed that I have to depend on my children for some of my medications.”

There are different resources available to seniors to help with food and transportation needs.

“We have the Meals on Wheels program, our senior transportation program which drives seniors to critical medical appointments,” said Joey McNamee, the Community Engagement Section Manager of Salt Lake County Aging Services.

Some of these programs do encourage people to donate and there are eligibility requirements.

“We try to target the most needy,” said McNamee. “The Meals on Wheels and senior transportation program are for homebound seniors.”

For Meals on Wheels, if a senior can’t give a donation they can still receive help if they’re 60 and older.

For seniors who do have their own transportation, McNamee encourages them to visit their local senior centers. There they can receive lunch and interact with other seniors.

For more information on services, you can visit the Utah Department of Human Services for Aging and Adult Services.

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