By Erica Quinones
The Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021 temporarily expanded eligibility requirements for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits for college students.
Eligibility has been expanded to include students who are enrolled at least half-time in a higher education institution and either qualify for state or federally financed work study programs, or have an expected family contribution of $0, according to the United States Department of Agriculture’s website.
Students who meet one of the two criteria may begin receiving SNAP on Jan. 16 and will continue doing so until 30 days after the COVID-19 public health emergency is lifted, according to the USDA.
Previous regulations stated that students who attended an institution of higher education at least half-time could only qualify for SNAP if they fell into one of several exceptions, such as being 17 years old or younger, being over the age of 50, receiving Temporary Assistance for Needy Families benefits, or actively participating in state or federally funded work study.
The new expansions do not disqualify any of the original qualifications for SNAP benefits.
Students with questions regarding SNAP benefits, who wish to file an application for SNAP benefits, or want information about how eligibility applies to their situation, may contact their local SNAP office.
According to Director of Student Financial Aid Jennifer Gallagher, students are asked to apply in their college’s state, not their home state.
According to Assistant Dean for Student Success and Retention Tya Pope, this expansion of SNAP may not only assist students immediately, but in the future by recognizing students’ needs for fiscal assistance.
“I’ve talked to some people about this before in the sense that people thought that it wasn’t a thing at WC, that because of the fact we have such a crazy high tuition rate, clearly anyone who can afford tuition isn’t going to be worrying about food today. But that’s all the more reason to think that that’s an issue,” Pope said.
Despite this assumption, many students choose to either pay for tuition or purchase food, be it forgoing the purchasing of groceries or selecting the bare minimum dining plan.
“It just complicates everything, because if we’re constantly thinking about our stomach, and we’re constantly thinking about where our next meal is coming from, we’re not paying attention to the things we’re supposed to be paying attention to,” Pope said.
While the College saw some expansion of support for needy students in 2019 with the launch of George’s Free General Store, Pope said continued support for students in need even after the COVID-19 pandemic must come from the school.
“It’s not just as simple as saying we support our students, it’s putting our money where our mouth is,” Pope said.
Currently, students who are unsure if they qualify for SNAP have several outlets to check eligibility.
Students can confirm their expected family contribution of $0 by reviewing their financial aid letters for the 2020-2021 school year.
Financial aid letters are available on Student SelfService, or students can print a copy of their Student Aid Report at www.studentaid.gov, according to a March 4 email from Gallagher.
Students with a $0 EFC will either find that figure denoted on their SAR or have received the maximum Pell Grant in their financial aid letter, according to the USDA.
For a full-time student, the maximum Pell Grant is $3,172; students attending three-quarters of the time should have received $2,379; and half-time students should have received $1,586.
If a student is not already participating in work study but are curious if they would have qualified for the program, they can contact Financial Aid.
According to Gallagher, WC’s policy regarding work study eligibility includes students who have a financial need and an EFC of $10,000 or less.
Students who are applying for SNAP benefits and qualify for work study should contact Financial Aid at firstname.lastname@example.org to procure documentation stating that they are eligible for the program.
According to Gallagher, students can contact Financial Aid to receive documentation for an eligibility requirement; however, if the state approaches the office for the documentation, the student must sign release documents first.
The documents must contain a “wet signature,” according to Gallagher, meaning they must be printed, signed in ink, and returned to the Financial Aid Office.
If a student approaches the office directly and requests documentation to submit to the state, no authorization documents are necessary.
“We have to have a much wider conversation about what it means to be hungry, and what it means to be without. And it just doesn’t mean that you’re living in a box on the side of the street, it’s much more complicated than that,” Pope said. “You can go to a four-year private school and still struggle with hunger; you can still struggle with homelessness.”