Can college students get food stamps? Ending COVID SNAP benefits will leave many hungry.
40% of undergraduates come from families who qualify for SNAP, yet these students are not automatically eligible once they attend college. Don't make it harder for us to graduate.
The beginning of a new semester is a time for excitement and anticipation – a time when thousands of students are moving into their dorms, saying goodbye to parents and hello to new friends. But this August, many have an added worry: Where will their next meal come from?
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Congress met the needs of college students who struggled with food insecurity by expanding the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program’s (SNAP) eligibility requirements, allowing as many as 3 million students to enroll in the program and access nutritious food. But at the end of the spring semester, these measures were rolled back, meaning students could return to campus without access to vital nutrition support that was needed long before the pandemic began.
I attended Georgetown University as the daughter of a single mother and a first-generation college student. I could only afford the cheapest meal plan, which provided three to five meals a week. Because of this, I ended up filling my diet with low-cost, highly processed foods just to make ends meet and keep myself from going hungry.
As SNAP benefits roll back, students face hard choices
My story is just one of many. Nearly 40% of undergraduates come from families whose incomes qualify them for SNAP, yet students from these families are not automatically eligible once they attend college. Instead, there are certain requirements that a student has to meet to be eligible. The exemptions, set more than 40 years ago, require students to participate in a work-study program or work at least 20 hours a week in paid employment.
These students face an impossible choice: Endure the burden of SNAP’s work requirement, or sacrifice access to important nutrition support to fulfill academic responsibilities.
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A full-time course load is typically 12 credits, meaning students may dedicate 36 hours a week to their education – outside of the hours they spend in class. This is typically the minimum. Requiring that they spend an additional 20 hours in a job can prove detrimental to their studies.
For me, on top of the usual undergraduate stresses – deadlines, papers, extracurriculars and internships – I was constantly thinking about how to afford my next meal.
In fact, it’s estimated that working students are about 20% less likely to graduate than their peers who do not work.
If they choose not to work and go without access to a program like SNAP, studies show that improper diets harm students' academic success. A Johns Hopkins study found that college students lacking adequate nutrition and food access are approximately 43% less likely to graduate than food-secure peers and 61% less likely to have an advanced degree like a master's or Ph.D.
Congress should end its college workweek requirement
Just before the pandemic, a comprehensive survey of nearly 200,000 students found that nearly 40% of students attending a two-year university struggled with food insecurity, and at four-year institutions about 30% had struggled with food insecurity at some point in the previous month. However, only 24% of two-year students accessed SNAP while 10% of four-year students did.
Low-income college students often face a disproportionate amount of barriers to even getting to a college campus and deserve to be able to focus on their studies once they arrive. Requiring students to work to access the assistance they need to maintain a balanced diet is an injustice.
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Congress should end the 20-hour workweek requirement in recognition of student life constraints and the importance of these formative years of study. Forcing the very students who need support systems and resources to divert their focus from their education is antithetical to the purpose of these programs.
At every step, low-income students face additional hurdles and must beat the odds time and again just to get by. Our leaders have the power to ease their burden and ensure that food security doesn’t stand in the way of the next generation of leaders.
Heather Tayloris managing director of Bread for the World, a Christian advocacy organization urging U.S. decision-makers to do all they can to pursue a world without hunger.