Potential Threat to Food Stamp Benefits for College Students Battling Hunger

by Andrew Wright
College Students Food Insecurity

Having been raised on welfare by his grandmother, Joseph Sais depended heavily on food stamps while at college, to the extent that he considered dropping out when his eligibility was rescinded.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Sais lost his eligibility to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), also known as food stamps, due to missing a crucial letter. Sais, who now is a first-year graduate student at Sacramento State University after obtaining his bachelor’s degree in political science and journalism, admitted, “During test times, my thoughts were more on what I would eat that night, rather than the test.”

After having his eligibility reinstated earlier this year, Sais is now amongst a largely unrecognised demographic that continues to pose challenges for researchers and policymakers: full-time college students facing severe food insecurity. According to Radha Muthiah, the president of the Capital Area Food Bank, it’s a hidden crisis that came to light during the pandemic, with at least 30% of college students being food insecure.

During the pandemic, the U.S. Department of Agriculture made the SNAP eligibility requirements more lenient for college students, welcoming those on financial aid without any family support expected and those who were qualified for work-study programs, regardless of hours worked. Researchers estimate that as many as 3 million college students were incorporated into the program.

However, with the end of the public health emergency, students already on SNAP had until June 30 to recertify and remain in the program under the pandemic-era rules. The broadened SNAP eligibility will only persist for one more year, and the whole program will gradually return to its pre-pandemic rules over the next year, with the specific timeline varying by state.

“In the forthcoming months, there could be thousands of college students losing access to this program,” warned MacGregor Obergfell, the assistant director of governmental affairs at the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities. “It’s going to occur in waves.”

The expanded rules will not apply to incoming freshmen.

Bryce McKibben, senior director of policy and advocacy at Temple University’s Hope Center, noted that this could initiate a “slow-rolling disaster as we revert to the old SNAP rules during a time when the need for food security is increasing.”

With inflation leading to increasing hunger among college students, on-campus food pantries have sprung up at hundreds of universities over the past decade, according to Robb Friedlander, director of advocacy for Swipe Out Hunger. Yet, these pantries are predominantly funded by donations, restricting their reach and scope.

Despite SNAP’s more flexible entry guidelines, students reported bureaucratic hurdles and frustrations with the system. For instance, Jessalyn Morales, a junior at Lehman College in the Bronx, struggled with her SNAP applications, which were rejected five times due to her not working enough hours, contrary to the pandemic rules.

Upon closure of her Lehman College dorm last fall, Morales’ living expenses nearly doubled. She had to choose between paying rent and buying food each week. However, since May, she has been receiving SNAP benefits and can stretch her monthly $260 to cover two months’ worth of food with careful shopping and budgeting.

Both Sais and Morales, in separate interviews, referred to their current situations as “survival mode.” Obergfell emphasised that the anxiety of such survival can breed despair, especially amongst students pursuing higher education to escape generational poverty. “We need to ensure that these students’ basic needs are met so they can fully participate and succeed in college,” he said.

Sais argued that mere survival isn’t enough: “Sometimes I would like to thrive rather than just survive. Fighting all your life is tiring.”

Report by Morga from New York.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about College Students Food Insecurity

What is the main issue discussed in the text?

The main issue is the potential loss of food stamp benefits (SNAP) for college students who are struggling with hunger, especially in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Who is Joseph Sais and why is he important in the context of the text?

Joseph Sais is a first-year graduate student who relied heavily on food stamps while pursuing his degree. His experiences highlight the challenges faced by many college students dealing with food insecurity.

What changes to the SNAP program were implemented during the pandemic?

During the pandemic, the U.S. Department of Agriculture relaxed the eligibility requirements for the SNAP program. Students on financial aid with no expected family support and those who qualified for work-study programs, regardless of hours worked, were allowed into the program.

What is the potential impact of reverting to pre-pandemic SNAP rules?

Returning to pre-pandemic SNAP rules could result in thousands of college students losing their access to the program, thereby exacerbating food insecurity among this population.

What are some of the solutions provided for food-insecure college students?

On-campus food pantries have emerged as a solution, offering food resources to students in need. Some pantries have even developed 24-hour service models to accommodate irregular student schedules.

More about College Students Food Insecurity

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LiamR July 16, 2023 - 2:00 pm

Just read this, can’t believe it’s happening in our country… These kids are in school trying to make a better life, but they can’t even afford to eat? Something’s gotta change.

User1984 July 17, 2023 - 2:28 am

I went through something similar in my college days, not easy at all… Food pantries are good, but they’re just a band-aid. We need a better solution, these are our future leaders!

BethanyS July 17, 2023 - 3:52 am

It’s easy to forget that college isn’t just bout studying and having fun. For a lot of people, it’s survival. We need to raise awareness about this issue.

Tom_M July 17, 2023 - 4:23 am

seems like the system is flawed… Eligibility for food stamps shouldn’t be so complicated. These kids are struggling, we need to support them!

Jenn21 July 17, 2023 - 4:51 am

This is just heartbreaking… no one should have to worry bout eating, especially when they’re trying to get an education! Can’t we do better for our students?


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