As many as 75,000 South Carolina seniors who could be participating in the government's food stamp program are missing out on $71 million in benefits each year, a new report estimates.

Senior hunger, often called America's "hidden hunger," is expected to become more of an issue in the state as South Carolina's population becomes more gray.

The National Council on Aging said Thursday the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) - formerly known as government food stamps - helps more than 100,000 struggling older adults aged 60 and above in South Carolina pay for food.

"Yet 75,000 South Carolina seniors who may be eligible for SNAP are not participating in the program, leaving behind an estimated $71 million in benefits each year," the group said its data indicted, adding that South Carolina ranks 10th in rate of senior hunger.

"Too many older adults have to make impossible choices every day: should they pay for food, medicine, or rent?" said Lura Barber, Senior Program Manager of Hunger Initiatives at the council. "No older American should have to make that choice."

One avenue the group is promoting is its "BenefitsCheckUp" program, an online service that screens older adults for SNAP and other benefits, and provides instructions and forms to apply. Since 2001, the option has helped more than 1 million people find over $1.1 billion in SNAP benefits.

Among the reasons participation has not reached full potential are questions about how programs work and who qualifies.

"Isolated seniors also face barriers related to geography, technology, and mobility," the group said.

Since 2001, the number of "food-insecure" seniors has more than doubled, the aging council said, from 2.3 million to 4.8 million.

SNAP is administered through the Department of Social Services. "DSS will never stop working to find new and more efficient ways to protect and serve our older and disabled population," the agency said in a media statement.

To learn more about the SNAP program and how to apply, visit www.BenefitsCheckUp.org/SNAP.

Reach Schuyler Kropf at 937-5551