- Congressional Democrats are once again attempting to expand the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps, to low-income college students.
- Federal lawmakers made it easier for college students to access the program during the coronavirus pandemic, but those emergency benefits are slated to expire in June. When that happens, college students will need to meet requirements beyond the standard income criteria to qualify for the SNAP program, including working an average of 20 hours per week.
- The newly proposed legislation would eliminate the work requirements for college students, allowing them to qualify for SNAP so long as they were enrolled at least half time in a higher education institution.
Student success advocates have long bemoaned SNAP’s rules as counterproductive for college students. They argue that working 20 hours a week hurts students’ ability to focus on their studies, and research has backed up concerns that it could impede their ability to stay enrolled.
Food insecurity is also prevalent on college campuses.
In fall 2020, 38% of college students attending two-year institutions and 29% of those enrolled in four-year institutions reported experiencing food insecurity in the past month, according to a 2021 report from The Hope Center for College, Community and Justice. That includes worrying they would run out of food before they next got paid and skipping meals because they couldn’t afford them.
Lawmakers approved the temporary expansion of the program in 2020 in response to the pandemic. It allowed college students to access SNAP benefits if they either qualified for the Federal Work-Study program or came from families who weren’t expected to be able to contribute to their college costs. Student advocates have lauded the changes and pushed to make them permanent.
However, the temporary measure is slated to expire June 11, a month after President Joe Biden officially lifted the public health emergency tied to COVID-19.
“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 the country,” New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, who introduced the bill in the Senate, said in a statement.
The bill has also been introduced in the House, where it has more than 120 cosponsors. No Republicans have signed onto the proposal.
If passed, the bill could greatly expand how many college students are eligible for SNAP. In New York alone, 290,000 additional college students would qualify, according to a recent announcement.
Democratic lawmakers have continually tried to expand SNAP to more college students.
Rep. Jimmy Gomez, from California, has introduced a version of the proposal each year since 2019, though it has failed to gain traction. The bill may face an uphill battle in a divided Congress, where Republicans control the House and Democrats have a razor-thin majority in the Senate.