By Owen Daugherty, NASFAA Staff Reporter
Dozens of lawmakers in a recent letter to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) are urging the agency to issue guidance regarding eligibility requirements for the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) that provides clarity to certain exemptions that existed before the onset of the pandemic and expanded eligibility for the federal program.
The bicameral group of Democratic lawmakers argue that a sustained effort beyond the pandemic is needed to address the growing food insecurity problem among college students.
“College students represent the future of America. Not only is it critical that we don’t saddle students with debt, but the Administration should also use its executive authority to ensure low-income students have the information they need to access SNAP and other federal benefits to help them stay focused and successful in their studies,” the lawmakers wrote to USDA Secretary Thomas Vilsack. “USDA has the authority to change that.”
Specifically, the lawmakers are calling on the agency to issue guidance further clarifying that the certain student groups are eligible for SNAP benefits without work requirements, including low-income students who have been approved for federal or state work-study are eligible for SNAP benefits while they search for available work study positions or funding, whether or not
their college is able to secure them a position, in addition to low-income students enrolled in community college and in four-year college programs that are career-focused or in paths resulting in high employability after graduation, and low-income students with disabilities, including students with learning disabilities and serious medical conditions.
Notably, a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report cited in the lawmakers' letter found thousands of low-income students who would otherwise be eligible for SNAP benefits never accessed them, largely due to the complex eligibility rules of the federal program.
A provision in the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021 first expanded access to SNAP benefits by temporarily removing work and eligibility requirements for students — a change that will be in place for the duration of the public health emergency due to the coronavirus.
Additionally, the Office of Federal Student Aid (FSA) sent an email to 2020-21 FAFSA filers with an expected family contribution (EFC) of zero to alert them of expanded eligibility rules for SNAP, and aid offices have been encouraged to utilize FAFSA data to increase awareness of what federal benefits students may be eligible to receive.
Democrat lawmakers have since introduced legislation to further expand SNAP benefits to students who are eligible for work-study, have a $0 expected family contribution, meet the financial eligibility criteria for a maximum Pell Grant, or are independent students whose household is otherwise eligible.
While that legislation has made little progress in Congress, the recent letter underscores the effort to keep the conversation surrounding SNAP benefits in the forefront even as the pandemic starts to fade.
“While we acknowledge and appreciate the additional effort USDA and [the Department of Education] have taken to encourage states to reach potentially eligible students by using financial aid data while the temporary CRRSSA provisions are in place, this does not resolve the importance of clarifying the long-standing student eligibility rules, given the well-documented barriers students face to accessing SNAP benefits,” the letter concludes.
Publication Date: 3/9/2022