Students can use SNAP, so why aren’t they?

Some students qualify to receive benefits from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, but it is rarely used.

SNAP is geared toward college students to ensure food stability. To qualify for the program, students must be 130 percent below the poverty line or have a work study job. Up to $192 per month are available to each person.

Eric Johnson, a policy and communications specialist for the UNC Office of Scholarships and Student Aid, said very few students at UNC take advantage of the program, which is conducted under the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“My guess is that very few undergraduate students are relying on SNAP benefits, even if they come from families that might have been eligible,” Johnson said in an email. 

Electronic Benefits Transfer cards, accepted by many retailers in Chapel Hill, allow cardholders to transfer their government benefits from a federal account to a retailer.

The Chapel Hill Farmer’s Market makes its market accessible to those who benefit from government funded programs, but manager Kate Underhill said very few people take advantage of this opportunity.

“On a typical Saturday, we have about 600 customers,” she said. “We might get four or five EBT customers.” 

Johnson said the lack of students using SNAP may be related to scholarships and financial aid opportunities.

“Our financial aid awards are designed to cover meal expenses, and we meet regularly with the dean of students, housing and dining services to make sure students have access to meals,” he said in an email. “We take food security very seriously, which is why the financial aid cost of attendance includes enough money to cover an unlimited meal plan.”

The Center for Law and Social Policy, a nonprofit that advocates for policy solutions that work for low-income people, said one condition of the program is that any benefits received from SNAP are not allowed to be used on college meal plans.

According to resources from CLASP, students who live in dorms and receive more than half their meals from a meal plan are also not eligible for benefits.

Even though the program has restrictions limiting the number of potential users, it also has perks for those who receive benefits. 

“SNAP can be used to buy groceries at over 246,000 authorized retailers – grocery stores, but also other places that sell food, including discount stores, bodegas, and farmers markets,” CLASP said.

Source URL: