There is a temporary change in eligibility for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. SNAP is expanding eligibility to certain college students who qualify based on their families’ income but normally would be ineligible for the program due to being a student.
“Our ways of life and routines have changed to keep ourselves and our communities safe from this virus. Jobs that students would normally work on campuses or around their schools may have reduced hours or are not an option anymore, meaning that students and families with more limited resources may be struggling even more to meet their most essential needs,” said Department of Human Services Secretary Teresa Miller. “In a time when so many are struggling, we are hopeful that this will be another resource that we can extend to families who are feeling this economic strain most acutely. We urge Congress to make this change permanent, so that no student has to go hungry again.”
“Food insecurity is yet another issue that learners are facing during the pandemic, and should not create further barriers to success,” added Pennsylvania Department of Education Deputy Secretary for the Office of Postsecondary and Higher Education Tanya I. Garcia.
Eligibility rules set by the federal government dictate that students ages 18-49 who are enrolled in college at least half time are not eligible for SNAP unless they meet certain exemptions, including working an average of 20 hours or more per week, participating in a state or federal work study program, having a disability, or being a parent of a child under age 6. Even if students reside at home with parents who qualify for and receive SNAP, they are not counted in the household unless they meet one of the exemptions.
Under the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021, college students who are eligible for a state or federal work study program, regardless of whether they are actually participating, or students who have an estimated family contribution of $0 on their federal student aid determination are now eligible for SNAP. For those under the age of 22 and for students who live at home with their parents, for now, these families will receive a benefit more commensurate to their household size that they would otherwise not get because their household contains a student.
This eligibility will remain in place until 30 days after the public health emergency ends. Since the Biden Administration has advised that the declaration will most likely remain in place at least until the end of 2021 and states will have 60 days notice before it ends, this policy change will more than likely be something that can help families for the remainder of the crisis.
A Government Accountability Office report released in January 2019 found that at least one-in-three college students do not always have enough to eat. Additionally, 71 percent of college students today do not fit the model of a “typical” college student and may be financially independent, work at least part time, enroll in and stay in college at a later age, or have dependent children. These factors, when paired with other challenges students face, like cost of tuition, lodging and/or transportation, books and supplies, can create significant barriers to making ends meet. The report includes a literature review of 31 studies of college hunger and indicated there was a range of 9-50 percent of students who experienced food insecurity on campuses, but that in 22 of these studies, food insecurity was estimated to be above 30 percent of the students surveyed.
Applications for SNAP, Medicaid and other public assistance programs that provide help with utilities, home energy and cash assistance can be submitted online at compass.state.pa.us. Those who prefer to submit a paper application can print from the website, pick one up at a County Assistance Office, or request an application by phone at 1-800-692-7462 and mail it to their local CAO or place it in a CAO’s secure drop box, if available. You do not need to know your own eligibility in order to apply.