New SNAP College Eligibility Criteria

In February 2021 the USDA shared important updates regarding student eligibility for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), due to the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021. This act temporarily expands SNAP eligibility to students in higher education enrolled at least part time. The new requirements now extend eligibility to students who: “are eligible to participate in state or federally financed work study during the regular school year, as determined by the institution of higher education, or have an expected family contribution (EFC) of $0 in the current academic year.” 

The new eligibility criteria come at a time when 40% of higher education students are reporting food insecurity. Just Harvest notes that, despite nearly half of students reporting this problem, only one in five are eligible for nutrition assistance. This is due to numerous exemptions and requirements that have not been updated from when they were created – decades ago when higher education was widely affordable.  

From January 16th students who meet either of the criteria above may receive SNAP benefits if they meet all other eligibility criteria. The USDA notes that these two new temporary exemptions will be in effect until thirty days after the COVID-19 public health emergency is lifted. These new exemptions will not impact other student exemptions that existed prior to the pandemic.  

More information about the new, temporary exemptions can be found here. To find out how to apply, or for other questions about your SNAP eligibility, contact your local SNAP office. 

What are the student exemptions?
If you are a student (as defined above) you may be able to get SNAP benefits if you are otherwise eligible for SNAP and meet one of the following exemptions: 

  • Are 17 years old or younger, or 50 years old or older; 
  • Are physically or mentally unfit (have a disability); 
  • Receive Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) benefits; 
  • Are enrolled in a TANF Job Opportunities and Basic Skills (JOBS) program; 
  • Work at least 20 hours a week in paid employment; 
  • Participate in a state or federally financed work study program; 
  • Participate in an on-the-job training program; 
  • Care for a child under the age of 6; 
  • Care for a child age 6 to 11 and do not have adequate child care enabling you to attend school and work 20 hours a week or participate in work study; 
  • Are a single parent enrolled full-time in college and taking care of a child under 12; or 
  • Are assigned to or placed in a college or other institution of higher education through: 
    • A program under WIOA (Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act of 2014); 
    • A program under Section 236 of the Trade Act of 1974 (Trade Adjustment Assistance Program); 
    • An employment and training program under the Food and Nutrition Act of 2008 (SNAP E&T); or 
    • An employment and training program for low-income households operated by a state or local government, so long as the program has at least one component that is equivalent to a component under SNAP E&T. 

Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Education joined the U.S. Department of Agriculture in issuing guidance to postsecondary institutions to inform them about the expanded eligibility criteria. Acting Assistant Secretary for Postsecondary Education Michelle Asha Cooper said  

“Since the onset of this pandemic, college students already living with low incomes have experienced significant life disruptions including increased food insecurity… 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.” 

This new guidance aims to move institutions to coordinate with “campus stakeholders” to alert students that may be eligible. The most recent guidance follows previous actions notifying universities of their authority to modify financial aid packages to accommodate families’ changing financial circumstances. This all follows President Biden’s January 22nd Executive Order directing all federal agencies to take the necessary steps to address the crises emerging from the pandemic. 

In its social statement “Our Calling in Education,” the ELCA recognizes that the cost of education is a major hurtle in students’ lives, and that charitable giving and grants have not made up for the difference between inflation and the rising cost of education (52). In working to alleviate hunger and food insecurity in Pennsylvania, Lutherans must advocate for college students as well, ensuring that they have the resources they need to be fed and excel in their education.  

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