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SNAP and Student Food Insecurity

Nathan Collins, Research Intern SBNC

March 2021

Student SNAP Accessibility?

Food insecurity is one of many hurdles facing some college and university students in the United States today. Although some schools, like the University of Southern California, provide programs that consist of food pantries with canned goods, oftentimes this is not enough. This brief will detail the government support system formerly known as food stamps, now the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP. This memo will also detail the accessibility of SNAP resources for college students including regulations, changes to regulations that might affect student accessibility. Included will be work from two separate studies on food inequity for college students as well as the SNAP benefit accessibility.

What is SNAP?

The precursor to the SNAP program began in 1939, the USDA details that “the program operated by permitting people on relief to buy orange stamps equal to their normal food expenditures”. By 1981 nearly 22.2 million people were on the food stamp program. With the passing of the 2008 Farm Bill, the name of the food stamp program was changed to SNAP, as well as mandating a 10 billion dollar increase in funds over the following 10 years. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s website, SNAP benefits can buy “Fruits and vegetables; meat poultry, and fish; Dairy products; Bread and cereals; Other foods such as snack foods and non-alcoholic beverages; and Seeds and plants, which produce food for the household to eat”. To be eligible for benefits you must meet your individual state’s requirements.

Student Benefits of SNAP Resources

In a December 2018 report created by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), research was outlined on the correlation between food assistance programs and the benefits for low-income college students. The report detailed that “according to research on the effect of SNAP benefits, these benefits can provide some help to students, although they may not eliminate their food insecurity”. The report goes on to detail the “limited access to several key federal food assistance programs that could help address some” hurdles of college students, even drawing a correlation between the existence and utilization of a “free or reduced meal program” in K-12, but the lack of any kind of program at the college level. The report shows the positive and necessary correlations behind students receiving food assistance program benefits.

Student Benefit Expansion of Eligibility:

Outlined on the Department of Agriculture's Food and Nutrition website are the different eligibility requirements for individuals seeking the SNAP benefits, specifically noting that “generally, students ages 18 through 49 who are enrolled in college at least half time are not eligible for SNAP unless they meet certain specific exemptions''. According to the Hope Center study: BEYOND THE FOOD PANTRY: Supporting Students with Access to SNAP oftentimes students who are eligible for benefits, don’t even know it. This study also references a U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) study done in 2019 which stated “The GAO estimates that 57% of students who are likely food insecure and eligible for SNAP do not receive it”. The Hope Center article asserts that a greater number of college students are eligible for the program, yet navigating the system of qualifying and receiving benefits is complicated, stressing “While the federal government sets the SNAP benefit levels and eligibility rules, states have significant authority and flexibility in determining whether individuals or households meet the program’s eligibility requirements” (The Hope Center and MAZON, 2019). These regulations have changed, due to the pandemic, under the recently passed Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021. As of January 16, 2021 SNAP benefits have been extended to students who meet one of two criteria, either the student is “eligible to participate in state or federally financed work-study during the regular school year, as determined by the institution of higher education, or have an expected family contribution (EFC) of $0 in the current academic year”.

Work Cited:

Goldrick-Rab, Sara. Supporting Students with Access to Snap. 20 Dec. 2019,

Office, U.S. Government Accountability. Food Insecurity: Better Information Could Help Eligible College Students Access Federal Food Assistance Benefits. 9 Jan. 2019,


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