SNAP eligibility expanded to include college students, state officials confirm

    SNAP Grocery Shopping
    A family receiving SNAP benefits goes shopping. (U.S. Dept of Agriculture photo via Flickr Commons)

    A temporary change in eligibility for the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) will expand the program to qualifying college students, state officials confirmed Monday.

    During a briefing with reporters, state Department of Human Services Secretary Teresa Miller said new federal funding approved in December made this change in SNAP benefits, popularly known as food stamps, possible. 

    “We’re finally able to extend a bit of relief to college students,” Miller said.

    The temporary policy change expanded eligibility to four-year college students who were previously ineligible to receive SNAP benefits. 

    The new criteria includes, being enrolled at least half-time, a family contribution of zero on the student’s Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) or being in a work-study program. 

    “Hunger is a real issue,” Miller said, urging Congress to make the temporary eligibility change permanent. 

    Additionally, students can apply if they are living at home with their parents or on their own, as long as they meet the eligibility requirements.

    Due to the policy being implemented at the federal level, out-of-state students can apply in their home state or their state of residency, but not both. 

    Miller said the state does have ways of checking that applicants are not receiving benefits in both states. 

    This temporary policy change will last through the ongoing pandemic and 30 days after the public health emergency ends, Miller confirmed. States will have 60 days notice of its end date. 

    “It seems likely that these benefits [will last] through the end of the year,” Miller told reporters Monday.

    Enrollment for SNAP statewide has increased by 84,389 people since February 2020, for a total enrollment of about 1,821,848 in December — a 4.9 percent increase, according to Department of Human Services data. 

    Department of Education Deputy Secretary for the Office of Postsecondary and Higher Education Tanya I. Garcia said that the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has “exacerbated” the issue of food insecurity on college campuses.

    A January 2019 Government Accountability Office report found that a third of college students don’t always have enough to eat.

    While Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) cards issued by SNAP are able to be used at grocery stores and farmers markets, Garcia said efforts are underway to make EBT cards usable on college campuses, including cafeterias and on-campus dining. 

    “Let us help you,” Miller said, “… So we can all emerge stronger on the other side.”

    Students can apply online here, or pick up an application from their local County Assistance Office (CAO). 

    Cassie Miller
    A native Pennsylvanian, Cassie Miller worked for various publications across the Midstate before joining the team at the Pennsylvania Capital-Star. In her previous roles, she has covered everything from local sports to the financial services industry. Miller has an extensive background in magazine writing, editing and design. She is a graduate of Penn State University where she served as the campus newspaper’s photo editor. She is currently pursuing her master’s degree in professional journalism at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. In addition to her role at the Capital-Star, Miller enjoys working on her independent zines, Dead Air and Infrared.