HOULTON, Maine — The director of hunger and relief services for Catholic Charities Maine in Caribou told the Senate Special Committee on Aging on Wednesday that the high cost of heating oil, a lack of transportation and food insecurity are all challenges that face low-income senior citizens, particularly in rural areas.

Dixie Shaw spoke to the committee, of which Sen. Susan Collins is ranking member, during a hearing in Washington, D.C., titled, “Income Security and the Elderly: Securing Gains made in the War on Poverty.” Through her position with Catholic Charities Maine, Shaw runs two food banks supplying 25 food pantries that serve more than 24,000 people, which is one-third of the population of Aroostook County.

Shaw was invited to speak by Collins, who noted that millions of older Americans struggle daily to meet their basic needs.

“Facing poverty is harsh at any age, but especially heartbreaking when it is coupled with isolation and loneliness, as it so often is in rural areas,” said Collins. She added that one in four retired Americans nationally rely only on social security for their retirement income. In Maine, the statistic is one in three.

Shaw testified about three significant challenges that low-income seniors face, including the high cost of heating oil and food insecurity, especially among those who do not have the resources and ability to access enough fuel and fresh food. She also spoke about the lack of transportation options for older Americans, which also contributes to too many not having access to needed services. Shaw stressed the importance of federal programs such as LIHEAP and Meals on Wheels.

Panelists concurred that far too many older Americans were reliant on social security as their only source of retirement income, and unmarried older women were at greatest risk for living in poverty.

Collins and Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., have introduced a bill that encourages small employers to offer retirement plans and also prompts employees to do the same. It also ensures that low- and middle-income taxpayers are able to claim tax benefits for retirement savings already authorized by law.