Expanded SNAP benefits to help students

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The U.S. Education Department (ED) is encouraging colleges to inform their students about recently expanded SNAP benefits to help students during the pandemic.

ED, in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), has issued guidance to postsecondary institutions to inform them about temporarily expanded Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) eligibility for students in need.

“Since the onset of this pandemic, college students already living with low incomes have experienced significant life disruptions including increased food insecurity,” Michelle Asha Cooper, ED’s acting assistant secretary for postsecondary education, said in a statement. “No student should have to worry about where their next meal will come from while balancing their studies. Informing eligible students of these benefits can help ease that uncertainty.”

The department noted its January 29 guidance reminding institutions that they have the authority to adjust financial aid packages to account for students’ and families’ current financial circumstances.

Under regular SNAP eligibility requirements, students enrolled at least half-time in an higher education institution are typically ineligible for SNAP benefits unless they meet certain specific exemptions. The 2021 Consolidated Appropriations Act temporarily expands SNAP eligibility to include students who either:

  • Are eligible to participate in state or federally financed work study during the regular academic year, as determined by the higher education institution; or
  • Have an expected family contribution (EFC) of zero in the current academic year. This includes students who are eligible for a maximum Pell Grant.

The temporary exemptions will be in effect until 30 days after the Covid public health emergency is lifted. More information can be found on the SNAP benefits for students webpage and Q&A on student eligibility.

Because state SNAP agencies administer the program, process applications and determine eligibility, students should contact their local SNAP offices to learn how to apply or to ask other questions. Colleges and universities with questions about student SNAP eligibility, including the temporary expansion, also should contact their state SNAP agency.

Contact information for state SNAP agencies and local offices can be found in USDA’s SNAP state directory.

About the Author

Matthew Dembicki
is editor of Community College Daily and serves as publications director for the American Association of Community Colleges.