A new policy paper is calling on lawmakers to permanently expand the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) to college students who qualify based on financial need. SNAP benefits provide vital support for basic living expenses like food, but until recently only a small number of states provided SNAP assistance to college students.

The paper, from researchers at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and the Food Bank For New York City, argues that making SNAP permanent for college students nationwide could help address food insecurity, support students’ health and academic success, and promote equity. Surveys show that college students experience food insecurity and homelessness at significant rates, yet federal SNAP eligibility cuts them off if they do not meet work requirements.

Providing SNAP benefits to more college students could help reduce rates of “very low food security” from over 20% to below 10% according to the paper. It could also improve health, cognitive performance, and graduation chances, while establishing college as an opportunity open to all, not just those from wealthy families. Expanding SNAP could benefit an estimated 2.2 million people enrolled in higher education.

The policy proposal comes as the national economic impact of the pandemic threatens to worsen college affordability and food insecurity. Although unemployment is lower for younger Americans, job losses may disproportionately impact students, and college enrollment itself has declined. Providing basic aid through SNAP could counter these effects and support students’ ability to continue progressing towards degrees.

Some policymakers have already taken action. Over 20 states have opted to extend SNAP benefits to college students at the state level. Connecticut, New York, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island provide those benefits permanently. Legislation introduced in Congress aims to make SNAP college student eligibility automatic based on receipt of a Pell Grant, known as “automatic SNAP for students.”

Still, more must be done to make SNAP universally available and adequate for college students nationwide according to researchers and advocates. Permanent expansion and automatic eligibility are approaches that could ensure no eligible student lacks access due to confusion over qualifications or limited resources. With basic living costs high and opportunities at stake, students deserve a simple path to the support they need to succeed.

In summary, the paper and its arguments call on lawmakers and policymakers at all levels to fulfill the promise of opportunity for which America’s higher education system stands by ensuring all can afford a college degree. Expanding SNAP for college students nationwide, permanently and automatically, is a just and impactful step that should garner broad support within the higher education community and beyond. When students’ basic wellbeing is at stake, every measure matters.


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