We are collaborating with AARP Foundation, AARP's charitable affiliate, to help advance the Foundation's cause of improving the lives of millions of older Americans who struggle to meet their basic needs for nutritious food, safe and affordable housing, adequate income, and personal connections. As part of our work together, InnoCentive and AARP Foundation have launched the AARP Foundation-InnoCentive Challenge Series, which is comprised of a dedicated Pavilion along with two new Challenges focused on food insecurity. We asked Jo Ann Jenkins, president of AARP Foundation, to chat with us about the Foundation, the collaboration and its goals, and the two new Challenges now open to Solvers on InnoCentive.com. [Ed note: A press release of the partnership and Challenge announcement can be found here.]
Hello Ms. Jenkins – we appreciate you taking the time to join us. First of all, can you tell us more about the AARP Foundation?
I’m delighted to. America has always been known as the land of opportunity. But for an alarming number of Americans age 50 and above, any opportunity feels distant right now, if not totally unobtainable. Uncertainty is the new normal – one in four workers has burned through their savings and many are living from paycheck to paycheck. They have worked hard, paid their taxes, and served their communities and country, but now they’re on the road to economic disaster. AARP Foundation helps struggling people 50+ to win back opportunity and move from vulnerability to stability.
According to the Foundation’s research, nearly 9 million American adults age 50 and older are at risk of hunger. How is the Foundation addressing this critical issue?
Working with AARP, we began Drive to End Hunger in 2011, a comprehensive, long-term national initiative with the goal of solving one of the most urgent and challenging issues of our time – hunger among older people. This initiative includes several key programs:
(1) Our cause-marketing work with NASCAR four-time Sprint Cup series winner Jeff Gordon and team owner Rick Hendrick of Hendrick Motorsports to raise awareness of hunger and raise funds to fight it. NASCAR fans are one of the most charitable and community-oriented group of sports fans in the U.S.
2) Educating and enrolling people age 60+ in SNAP (formerly known as food stamps). SNAP is the cornerstone of the federal nutrition programs. While overall program participation has increased with the economic downturn, senior participation in SNAP has remained chronically low with only 1 out of every 3 adults 60+ who are eligible for benefits actually receiving them.
SNAP is not simply a nutrition assistance program that allows recipients to purchase food for good health; it is also an economic support program. The average monthly benefit amount for seniors receiving SNAP is $119, or $1,400 a year. This benefit boosts the budgets of low-income seniors so they don’t have to make impossible choices between feeding themselves or getting their prescriptions filled. On average, SNAP benefits last far longer than an emergency food box (2.5 to 3 weeks vs. 2 days), and empower seniors to choose foods that meet their dietary requirements and cultural needs.
A recent report illustrated SNAP’s significant role in poverty reduction in the United States. SNAP moves more people out of poverty and extreme poverty annually than any other federal program except the Earned-Income Tax Credit, which clearly demonstrates how beneficial a program like this is on AARP Foundation’s clients’ paths from vulnerability to stability.
Furthermore, SNAP not only benefits individuals – it serves as an economic stimulus for local communities as well. Every $1 in SNAP benefits expended generates $1.79 in local economic activity and contributes to the viability of farmers, food processors, and food retailers.
(3) In December 2011, AARP Foundation launched its external grant making efforts and made $1.9 million available to fund ten organizations working to ensure long-term sustainable food security for Americans 50+. These external grants will support the development of innovative and sustainable solutions to combat hunger among older adults, such as education to improve food security, food-to-table efforts that link agriculture to institutions serving adults 50 and older, and research on food insecurities among underserved populations.
(4) We are sponsoring research into hunger, including the release of a ground-breaking study last year by James P. Ziliak, Ph.D. and Craig Gundersen, Ph.D., Food Insecurity Among Older Adults, which found that food insecurity increased 79% among the 50+ from 2001 to 2011. This first-of-its-kind report provides a comprehensive portrait of food insecurity among adults age 50-59 compared to those in their 40s and those 60 and older. The report focuses on age 50-59 adults because they do not have access to an age-specific safety net like older Americans, their adoption rates of food assistance programs such as SNAP are low, and the scaring effects of job loss can be more severe.
Why did the Foundation decide to work with InnoCentive, and in particular, consider the use of crowdsourcing to help solve food insecurity Challenges?
AARP Foundation is interested in seeking solutions to the problems of older adult hunger from a variety of sources, including local anti-hunger groups, state SNAP officials, and well-known hunger researchers. But that isn’t enough. The problem of hunger is one of the most basic and certainly one of the most difficult to solve, and we need to widen our base of potential problem solvers by a considerable margin. Crowdsourcing through InnoCentive will help us do that.
Both Challenges, Drive to End Hunger – Sustainable Solutions and Drive to End Hunger – Elimination of Food Deserts, are Ideation Challenges, each with a guaranteed award of $10,000. In your mind, what will ideal solutions from Solvers look like?
Drive to End Hunger is a long-term commitment on behalf of AARP Foundation and AARP to change the paradigm for how organizations address hunger, with a shift in focus from emergency food support to a focus on education, training, prevention, and solving for systemic problems in our food systems that result in someone going hungry in the first place. Solutions from Solvers that focus on long-term solutions to hunger are what we are looking for.
As you know, many of our Solvers are driven by their need to make a difference in the world. As you look to the future, what other important Challenges do you envision the Foundation may present to our Solvers?
AARP Foundation focuses on helping struggling people 50+ meet their daily needs for food, housing, financial security, and personal connection. There are no easy answers in any of these areas, and people 50+ are experiencing much greater challenges because of the economic downturn that began in December, 2007. I can envision AARP Foundation seeking long-term solutions to all of these problems – which are interconnected – and we may issue new Challenges to Solvers in some or all of these areas.
Thank you very much Ms. Jenkins. Is there anything else you’d like potential Solvers to know about the Challenges and the opportunities they present?
Yes. The problems of older Americans are often swept under the rug, but they are devastating and very real. Through no fault of their own, for many people 50+, uncertainty is the new normal. One in four workers has burned through his or her savings and many are living paycheck to paycheck. Despite having worked hard, paid taxes, and served their communities and country, they are on the brink of poverty. By 2030, one in every five Americans will be 65 or older. We need to start now, so that poverty doesn’t become a way of life for even more older people.