Washington Watch: SNAP can serve certain college students

The cost of going to college includes much more than tuition and fees and other education related expenses, such as books and supplies. While students are enrolled in college, they also have basic housing and food and other living expenses.

Relief comes in many forms, most notably student financial aid. Pell Grants, for example, help cover living expenses. But there are other, perhaps not as well known, sources of funding vital to low-income individuals to assist with food or housing or other living expenses while pursuing a college education.

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as the Food Stamp Program, is the nation’s largest anti-hunger program, helping to feed more than 40 million Americans each month, including some community college students. SNAP is designed to support low-wage workers, with 43 percent of participants living in households with reported earnings. SNAP helps 1 in ten workers in the U.S. put food on the table, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

Most able-bodied college students between the ages of 18 and 49 are not eligible for SNAP benefits. However, some do qualify and are unaware of their eligibility for this important assistance.

Last week, the Senate Agriculture Committee overwhelmingly approved a bipartisan farm bill to reauthorize U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) programs, including conservation, crop insurance, energy, farm credit, forestry, nutrition assistance, research and rural development. And, unlike the House’s farm bill, this legislation would largely preserve current eligibility requirements for SNAP.

SNAP eligibility

Students who are otherwise eligible for SNAP (meaning they meet the income and asset limitations and other requirements of their state’s program) and are working at least 20 hours per week or caring for dependents under age 6 may be eligible. Community colleges serve a higher proportion of independent students with dependents and those who work while enrolled.

The size of a family’s SNAP benefits is based on income and certain expenses. A single parent enrolled full time and caring for dependents under age 12 may meet the eligibility requirements. However, otherwise eligible students without dependents generally will face strict time limits for receiving benefits — three months in three years — if they don’t meet certain special work requirements.

Food insecurity remains a significant challenge for community college students with increasingly more colleges adding campus food pantries to help low-income students and their families. Some colleges offer gift cards to grocery stores or other emergency food assistance. But community colleges can only do so much to help their students with food insecurity.

What’s next for SNAP?

The House version of the farm bill, the Agriculture and Nutrition Act of 2018, was introduced as a majority party bill. As drafted, it would increase the SNAP work requirements and reduce the eligibility for those with dependent children. Those unable to find work or work the required number of hours per week, would be subject to a “lockout” period that would curtail benefits, even if their financial situation changed.

The House failed to pass its farm bill last month. With no support from the House Democrats, the bill was defeated after conservatives refused to support the bill until after a vote on immigration legislation sponsored by Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Virginia). Once a vote on this bill is scheduled or the issue is resolved, the House farm bill may proceed to the floor for a vote.

The full Senate is expected to vote on its farm bill in the next few weeks.

About the Author

Laurie Quarles
is a legislative resource associate at the American Association of Community Colleges.