SNAP changes expected to add confusion, restrictions

Some low-income college students could lose their access to food stamps under a new Trump administration rule restricting Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) eligibility, Inside Higher Ed reports. Experts say the rule change—scheduled to take effect in April—could make the SNAP program even more difficult to navigate and complicate efforts to connect food-insecure students with needed resources.

“The SNAP eligibility for students is really confusing already,” said Parker Gilkesson from the Center for Law and Social Policy—a nonpartisan nonprofit working to reduce poverty—noting that just four in 10 eligible college students are enrolled in SNAP.

Students attending school less than half time could lose benefits

Announced last month, the rule tightens SNAP work requirements for “able-bodied adults without dependents” and will make it more difficult for states to waive a requirement that those individuals work at least 20 hours a week to receive SNAP benefits. Students enrolled in college at least half-time will not be affected, but those enrolled less than half-time—some of the most vulnerable students—would be subject to the 20-hour weekly work requirement.

The new policy throws into question states’ efforts to create student-friendly exceptions that facilitate SNAP eligibility. Pennsylvania, for instance, currently counts time spent in class toward work requirements, Carrie Warick, director of policy and advocacy at the National College Access Network, told Inside Higher Ed. Research has shown that maintaining a 20+-hour work-week while attempting to earn a college degree increases students’ risk of falling behind, Warick said.

Nearly 700,000 Americans could lose benefits

While estimates remain unclear of exactly how many students will be affected by the rule change, approximately 688,000 food stamp recipients overall are expected to lose benefits. “It is clear that the rule will disproportionately impact young people, people of color, and those who struggle to find employment,” NPR writes.

And while colleges and universities increasingly are taking steps to fend off food insecurity—such as creating food pantries and hosting meal-swipe drives—those initiatives are short-term solutions, said Victoria Jackson, a senior policy analyst at the Education Trust.

Related: New bill would require federal data collection on food, housing insecurity >

“We really should be looking at SNAP and better, more comprehensive financial aid policies,” she said. Jackson noted that SNAP eligibility requirements were originally designed with “traditional” college students in mind, but they no longer fit with a higher education environment where many of today’s students do not rely on their parents for financial assistance, are older, have children, and attend college part-time.

Topics in this story

Next Up

Johns Hopkins says eliminating legacy preference has increased access, diversity

The university’s gradual shift away from legacy preference has coincided with an increase in the proportion of Pell-eligible and first-generation students and a shift in the racial composition of its student body.