New Research Calls for Post COVID-19 Federal and State Work-Study Programs to Consider Student Access to SNAP

By Hugh T. Ferguson, NASFAA Staff Reporter

While institutional planning for higher education programs remain in flux for this fall, a new paper is urging colleges to consider the implications that awarding — or not awarding — Federal Work-Study (FWS) may have on their student workers’ ability to maintain their access to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) program.

The research provided by the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP) aims to help ensure that students with high financial need can maintain their access to SNAP in order to meet basic food needs that have been unsecured further by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Since federal law allows students to be eligible for SNAP if they can meet a qualifying exception, such as being awarded federal or state work-study and “anticipating work,” a student's loss of access to work-study could revoke them from the program’s aid. Students who don’t meet any of the exceptions would be required to work 20 hours per week to receive SNAP.

When Congress enacted the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, it provided schools with additional flexibility for FWS, however students could still face barriers in their SNAP accessibility. 

Schools utilizing this flexibility could choose to transfer their FWS funding into the Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG) program, which provides grants to students with high financial need. The CARES Act also waives the non-federal share requirement in certain circumstances. If a school elected either or both of these flexibilities, the total dollar amount of FWS funding to award would likely be smaller than in previous years, resulting in smaller FWS awards or fewer FWS recipients. 

CLASP is calling on colleges to continue awarding work-study aid and trying to connect students to employment opportunities, including remote work, to maintain students’ access to SNAP and urging for additional congressional aid. Current law allows institutions to continue to pay FWS to students who are unable to work due to a qualifying emergency, but only if the student was working prior to the occurrence of the emergency, raising questions about schools’ ability to continue using this flexibility into the 2020-21 academic year.

“To help support the broader needs of states, Congress must pass additional federal support for state budgets to prevent deep and damaging budget cuts,” the paper read. “If states follow the playbook used for budget cuts in the Great Recession, higher education, including state work-study programs, will be hit especially hard.”

While congressional negotiations into another round of coronavirus aid remain largely stalled, the paper urges Congress and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to allow state waivers to temporarily waive SNAP student restrictions, citing 28 states documenting harm being done by the student rules.


Publication Date: 8/12/2020

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