Colleges and Universities Can Support Student SNAP Access

This guest blog is co-authored by MK Anderson and Charles Bliss.

Charles Bliss of Atlanta Legal Aid has been the Director of Advocacy there since October 2005.  Prior to that, he worked in private practice representing employees in a variety of legal matters including employment discrimination and employment contracts.  Prior to private practice, he worked at Atlanta Legal Aid, Three Rivers Legal Services in Gainesville, Florida and the ACLU of Mississippi.

MK Anderson (they/them) is an attorney and Equal Justice Works Legal Fellow working with Atlanta Legal Aid DeKalb. MK’s fellowship began with the mission of helping LGBTQ communities in Georgia overcome legal barriers to Medicaid, Medicare, and SNAP, but their project has since broadened to include general public benefits issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Prior to their fellowship, MK was a lobbyist for a reproductive health care provider in Atlanta, Georgia.

A recent change in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps) temporarily expands SNAP eligibility to include more low-income college students. Notably, the new policy temporarily extends eligibility to students who are either eligible for work study or have an Expected Family Contribution (EFC) to college costs of $0. An estimated 12,000 students with legal residence in Georgia are eligible for Federal Work study, and 187,000 students have an EFC of zero.[1]

Due to additional changes to the program, SNAP beneficiaries temporarily receive the maximum benefit amount per household. That means an individual eligible student could receive $234/month in food benefits.

Food insecurity was prevalent in places of higher learning even before the coronavirus, and Georgia colleges and universities were no exception to this trend. In 2018, Temple University found that over 30 percent of surveyed Georgia college students experienced some form of food insecurity.[2]  The pandemic has only worsened food insecurity among college students. According to a recent survey, rates of food insecurity among college students during the pandemic ranged from 42 percent to 56 percent at two-year institutions and 33 percent to 42 percent at four-year institutions.[3]

College and university administrators have key roles to play in ensuring that students are aware of the benefits for which they are newly eligible, and that those students have the information they need to access those benefits. To that end, this blog provides an overview of the new SNAP policy and offers suggestions for Georgia administrators.

SNAP College Student Eligibility Overview

While federal rules for SNAP have long barred most college students from enrolling, Congress recently authorized a new temporary policy in SNAP law to address hunger on campuses during the pandemic.[4] The new regulation expands eligibility to low- income students who are enrolled in an institution of higher education[5] more than half-time and:

  1. are eligible to participate in a State or federally financed work study program during the regular school year as determined by the institution of higher education, (even if they are currently not working in a work study job) or
  2. in the current academic year, have an expected family contribution (EFC) of $0 as determined in federal law.

This new rule remains in effect until 30 days after the current federal public health emergency declaration is lifted.

It is also important to note that beneficiaries qualify for the maximum SNAP benefit amount for as long as both state and federal public health emergency declarations are in effect. This means that an eligible single college student would qualify for $234 per month, and a family of four would receive approximately $782 per month.[6]

What Colleges and Universities Can Do

Colleges and universities across the country are acting to disseminate information to their students and staff. Atlanta Legal Aid has looked to advocates in other states to gather best practices for institutions of higher education looking to educate their students on the policy. We encourage Georgia college and university administrators to review the following possible actions.

  1. Advertise the availability of SNAP widely on campus, emphasizing new expansions in SNAP eligibility for college and university students. Public information campaigns can amplify student knowledge of the program and can reduce stigma that students may associate with SNAP.
  2. Ensure that student EFC and work study eligibility are easy to access and prominently located on existing online student portals. Providing students with easy access to these key pieces of information can empower students to successfully apply for SNAP on their own.
  3. Notify students whose financial aid files indicate an EFC of $0 or eligibility for work study about the new SNAP policy. Proactive outreach from trusted sources can address knowledge gaps by supplying students with the information they need about their own aid status and about food assistance available.
  4. Train student financial aid staff on these new changes to SNAP eligibility. Well-informed financial aid officers can help students identify and access information they need to verify eligibility.
  5. Include information about SNAP in student financial aid award letters. Because the SNAP rule will remain in place until 30 days after the end of the public health emergency, it is possible that this SNAP rule may extend into the fall semester. This may give colleges and universities an opportunity to inform students about SNAP in the context of information about their overall financial aid package, a communication that students are likely to read closely.
  6. Coordinate with student organizations to publicize SNAP eligibility through familiar channels. Messages informing students of how SNAP benefits can help them may be particularly effective coming from peers and through peer networks.

SNAP is America’s first line of defense against hunger. Congress’s recent action to open the program to more college and university students is an important part of the pandemic response. It is our hope that Georgia will lead the way in ensuring that students experiencing food insecurity will get the assistance that they need.

End Notes

[1] U.S. Department of Education, Federal Campus-Based Programs Data Book 2018, Table 50. https://www2.ed.gov/finaid/prof/resources/data/databook2018/databook2018.html and Pell. Federal Pell Grant Program 2017-2018 End-of-Year Report. Table 80. https://www2.ed.gov/finaid/prof/resources/data/pell-data.html Some students qualify for Federal Work Study and have an EFC greater than zero. EFC is calculated by a federal formula and used for financial aid eligibility.

[2] The Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice at Temple University. (2018, October 15). “Basic needs security among students attending Georgia colleges and universities.” https://hope4college.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/GeorgiaSchools-10.16.2018.html

[3] Goldrick-Rab, S. et al. (2020, June 15). “#RealCollege During the pandemic: New evidence on basic needs insecurity and student well-being.” (Philadelphia, PA: Temple University). https://hope4college.com/realcollegeduring-the-pandemic/

[4] “Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021,” Pub. L. No. 116–260 (2020), Sec. 702(e), https://www.congress.gov/bill/116th-congress/house-bill/133/text/enr

[5] An individual attends an institution of higher education if they are enrolled in: a regular curriculum at a college or university degree program; OR a business, technical, trade, or vocational school that normally requires a high school diploma or equivalent GED. See U.S. Department of Agriculture. (2021, February 8). “Students: COVID-19 temporary update”, https://www.fns.usda.gov/snap/students

[6] U.S. Department of Agriculture. (2020, December 28). “SNAP – Temporary Increase in Maximum Allotments due to COVID-19.” https://www.fns.usda.gov/snap/temporary-increase-maximum-allotments-due-covid-19-revised-12282020

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