New legislation could ensure food stamp eligibility for college students

Victoria May

One in 4 students at UT experience food insecurity, according to research from the UT Counseling and Mental Health Center. A new bill proposed by U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren and U.S. Rep. Al Lawson aims to improve college students’ access to affordable food.

“The significant increase in college tuition over the last decade has forced students to make a choice between buying food or paying for books and housing expenditures,” Lawson said in a statement announcing the bill July 17. “This bill will help to relieve some of that financial burden for them.” 

The College Student Hunger Act of 2019 would amend the Food and Nutrition Act of 2008, which introduced a supplemental nutrition assistance program, or food stamps, for all households whose incomes are a limiting factor in their abilities to purchase food.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Service, most people between the ages of 18 and 49 who are enrolled in college and have no disabilities are ineligible for food stamps. A recently released Government Accountability Office report found that almost 2 million at-risk college students did not receive the aid they were eligible for under SNAP in 2016.

Under the new amendment, the bill would now include the 32% of undergraduate college students who qualify for a federal Pell Grant or whose families are considered low-income. It would also make nearly half of all undergraduate college students eligible, such as those who are in foster care, who are veterans or who are homeless.

By including recipients of the Pell Grant, the 2019 bill has the potential to reach a much larger number of students, Warren said. 

“As more and more students struggle to afford college and take on a mountain of student loan debt, nearly 1 in 3 college students cannot even afford basic necessities like food,” Warren said in the July 17 statement. “Our bill will ensure students have the support they need to work toward a better future without going hungry.”

The act would also require the Department of Agriculture to inform colleges about eligibility for SNAP benefits, lower SNAP’s current work requirement for college students to 10 hours per week, and require the launch of projects to find ways to make SNAP more accessible to students.

At UT, students can go to Student Emergency Services, the Office of Scholarships and Financial Aid or UT Outpost for help dealing with food insecurity, said Kelly Soucy, director of student emergency services. 

“If a student comes to us and says that they don’t know when or where they’ll be able to eat next, we can give them gift cards to places like H-E-B or Target so they can get what they need,”
Soucy said.

Opened in 2018, UT Outpost is an on-campus food pantry that can provide students up to 20 pounds of food once or twice a month. This year, it is also expanding to include healthier options, such as fresh produce, Soucy said.

“Our goal is to provide students with the means that they need for a well-rounded school career,” Soucy said. “We want to make sure that food insecurity does not hinder their academic success.”