In a race against time, the deadline for pandemic-related Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits for college students looms on the horizon, set to expire on June 11. However, a glimmer of hope shines as determined lawmakers in Washington rally for an extension, recognizing the pressing need to support struggling students in the United States.
Cast your mind back to 2020 when a temporary expansion of SNAP benefits for college students was introduced in response to the devastating COVID-19 pandemic. It was a lifeline for countless students, enabling them to access vital assistance if they met specific eligibility criteria or hailed from families facing financial hardships in supporting their educational journey.
The Battle for Permanence – SNAP Benefits for College Students
Both the House and the Senate have taken up the cause, presenting bills that aim to extend assistance to students beyond the impending June 11 deadline. Spearheading this endeavor, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) fearlessly championed the bill in the Senate, taking a stand for the countless young minds seeking nourishment amidst challenging times.
“With emergency COVID-19 SNAP benefits for college students set to expire next month, we need to simplify eligibility for critical SNAP benefits to combat food insecurity plaguing low-income college students across New York State and around the country,” Senator Gillibrand stated in a resolute statement.
The proposed bill carries profound implications for the lives of countless students, particularly by removing burdensome work requirements that have been a hindrance to accessing SNAP funding. By allowing students enrolled part-time at higher education institutions to qualify for assistance, the bill seeks to alleviate their financial strain while fostering their educational pursuits.
Can college students qualify for SNAP benefits on a permanent basis?
College students may qualify for SNAP benefits on a permanent basis if they meet certain requirements. Generally, students attending an institution of higher education more than half-time are only eligible for SNAP if they meet an exemption. If they meet an exemption, they must also meet all other SNAP eligibility requirements. Students who attend college less than half-time are not subject to student restrictions on SNAP eligibility and may be eligible if they meet all other requirements.
However, there are some special rules for students attending an institution of higher education. For example, if a student lives on campus and gets most of their meals through a meal plan, they do not qualify for SNAP. But they may be eligible for SNAP when they are home during summer break if their family also gets SNAP and they meet other student status rules. Additionally, Congress recently passed legislation that expanded SNAP benefits to college students who are enrolled at least half-time, many of whom were previously ineligible due to historical guidelines. This expansion is currently temporary, but there are proposed bills for a more permanent expansion of SNAP eligibility.
How to get SNAP benefits if you’re a college student
Eligibility for SNAP benefits varies based on income, household size, and other factors. In the context of students, there are specific criteria that determine their eligibility. Firstly, students must be enrolled at least half-time in an institution of higher education, including vocational schools, community colleges, and universities. Additionally, they must meet one of the following criteria:
- Work a minimum of 20 hours per week or participate in a work-study program.
- Be a single parent responsible for a child under the age of 12.
- Be enrolled in a program that supports recipients who receive Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) benefits.
The first step for students interested in accessing SNAP benefits is to reach out to their local Department of Social Services or equivalent agency. These agencies have dedicated staff members who can provide guidance on the application process and determine eligibility based on individual circumstances.
How to apply if you’re eligible for SNAP benefits as a student
To apply for SNAP benefits, students typically need to complete an application form and submit supporting documentation, including proof of enrollment, income verification, and identification. The process aims to ensure that those who truly need assistance receive it promptly, while maintaining the integrity of the program.
Once approved, students receive an Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) card, similar to a debit card, loaded with a monthly allowance that can be used to purchase eligible food items at authorized retailers, including grocery stores and farmers’ markets. This empowers students to make their own nutritious choices, fostering independence and a sense of control over their well-being.
SNAP benefits for college students can change their lives forever
Notably, the SNAP system has recently become a focal point of debate among Republican lawmakers. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s ambitious Limit, Save, and Grow Act, which aims to temporarily lift the debt limit, seeks to rein in discretionary spending by returning it to FY 2022 levels, ultimately raising the debt ceiling by $1.5 trillion until March 31, 2024.
Within this expansive bill, McCarthy proposes expanding work requirements for select SNAP beneficiaries without dependent children. Presently, individuals between the ages of 16 and 59 who receive federal nutrition assistance must meet certain criteria, such as actively seeking employment, participating in a SNAP employment training program, or maintaining wages equivalent to 30 hours per week at the federal minimum wage.
Additionally, individuals aged 18 to 49 without dependents must engage in paid work, attend a training program, or dedicate 80 hours a month to volunteer work. Those who fail to meet these requirements, unless exempted, are limited to three months of SNAP benefits within a three-year period.