Nearly 1 in 3 college students are struggling to meet their basic food needs, and a new issue paper is looking to help identify the ways in which policymakers and institutions can better ensure that vulnerable families have access to programs that provide basic safety nets.
An issue paper from the Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice looks to provide clarity on the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) program by outlining its eligibility parameters and explaining how those qualifications vary by student age and the state in which a student resides. A significant number of people eligible for benefits — about 18%, according to a Department of Agriculture report cited in the Hope Center’s brief — do not participate in SNAP. And for college students, that so-called “SNAP gap” may be much wider than the general population, the Hope Center report argues.
“Unfortunately, policymakers have enacted strict limits on student eligibility for SNAP, likely exacerbating the high rates of food insecurity and creating a wide SNAP gap for college students,” the report says. “As data on student basic needs insecurity has become more widely available and student demographics shifted, a clearer picture of pervasive economic hardship in college emerged.”
Although lawmakers worked to remove some barriers due to the pandemic and allow some college students to qualify for SNAP, doing so added complexity to an already arduous process.
The report goes on to include ways in which states can work to close the SNAP gap and remove confusion over eligibility requirements with case studies and rubrics to help maximize program’s accessibility.
The paper provides more context as to how students easily get confused by the program, which has complicated eligibility requirements set by the federal government and variations from state to state in how the program requirements are interpreted and administered.
The paper then details how institutions of higher education can remove barriers by using institutional data to make specific students aware of SNAP as a resource.
For financial aid offices, the report urges colleges to use FAFSA data to help identify students who could benefit from SNAP and conduct targeted outreach to assist those students in enrolling.
“While states have a responsibility to maximize SNAP flexibility for students, colleges can also help connect more students with low incomes to SNAP and close the SNAP gap,” the report says. “Colleges can address major obstacles to SNAP enrollment of potentially eligible students: lack of knowledge of the benefit, confusion over program eligibility requirements, and stigma around applying for public benefits.”
Publication Date: 1/31/2023