Congress can address campus hunger by lifting SNAP’s college student work requirements 

Note: this blog was updated on 5/9/2023 to reflect the reintroduction of the EATS Act.

By Ashley Burnside and Barbie Izquierdo  

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) provides monthly food benefits to individuals facing food insecurity. The program lifts households out of poverty and effectively connects people to food. But SNAP’s burdensome work requirements make it hard to access for certain populations, like college students. The Farm Bill reauthorization provides an opportunity to make SNAP easier to access for college students by lifting these requirements.  

Many college students face food insecurity and financial hardship, made worse by the COVID-19 pandemic. This is especially true for students of color. In 2018, the Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice found that nearly half of Black students and 42 percent of Latinx students experienced food insecurity at four-year institutions, compared to only 30 percent of white students. In 2018, the Government Accountability Office reported that 29 percent of undergraduate students live in households with incomes below 130 percent of the federal poverty line and have at least one risk factor for food insecurity. Too often, lawmakers assume that all students receive financial support from their parents and therefore don’t need food benefits. These misconceptions have shaped SNAP policy for decades.  

Hunger affects college students across the country, and many colleges have taken notice. Campuses are meeting this need through programs developed by students with lived experience, schools acknowledging the issue and providing resources, or students witnessing their peers experience food insecurity. Colleges have created tools like food pantries, meal-sharing programs, and soup kitchens where students can come together and eat in a safe space. Some of these programs are supported by Swipe Out Hunger, which is a nonprofit that reduces college student hunger by partnering with more than 550 colleges to promote on-campus solutions and policy changes. Some colleges qualify for federal grants or receive donations. But our future leaders need permanent and sustainable solutions like access to SNAP so they don’t have to choose between their education and eating. Colleges can’t tackle this issue alone; policymakers also need to step in.  

Work requirement rules make it harder for SNAP to support college students. College students must work at least 20 hours per week to access SNAP, unless they meet a qualifying exemption. Working 20 hours per week while maintaining a course load is burdensome. The documentation requirements and other administrative burdens to maintain SNAP eligibility further hinder access to benefits. In addition, students are often unaware they’re eligible for SNAP, even if they meet the strict eligibility requirements, because of the confusing language about SNAP eligibility and stigma. Introduced earlier this year in the U.S. House of Representatives, the Opportunity to Address College Hunger Act would require colleges to notify students who participate in work-study that they may qualify for SNAP. 

During the COVID-19 pandemic, lawmakers temporarily eased access to SNAP for college students by exempting additional populations of students from the 20-hour-per-week work requirement. Under the temporary policy change, students who are eligible for federal- or state-funded work-study and/or who have zero expected family contributions during the academic year didn’t have to meet the work requirement to access SNAP. However, this policy will expire in spring 2023. 

The Farm Bill reauthorization should automatically exempt college students from SNAP’s work requirements. Representative Gomez will be reintroducing the Enhance Access to SNAP (EATS) Act this Wednesday, May 10th. This act would permanently remove the student work requirement. This is one of many recommendations we have for how the Farm Bill can advance access and equity in the SNAP program.

Please fill out the following form to have your organization formally endorse the EATS Act of 2023.