Best Kept Secrets: The Federal Government Expanded SNAP Eligibility for College Students, But Many Never Heard About It

Best Kept Secrets: The Federal Government Expanded SNAP Eligibility for College Students, But Many Never Heard About It

About one-third of college students report being food-insecure. Yet college students, unlike other adults, can only enroll in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)—the primary public benefit subsidizing food purchases—if they meet at least one of a laundry list of narrowlydrawn criteria (also known as exemptions). But in December 2020, Congress passed a law including provisions that made SNAP enrollment much simpler and more expansive. The law opened SNAP up to students assigned to federal or state work-study and students with a $0 Expected Family Contribution (EFC) meaning that their household is at the lowest income level tracked for purposes of Federal financial aid. It was an important breakthrough, even though the new avenues will terminate when the COVID-19 public health emergency (PHE) ends (currently scheduled for October 2022). But it was an important breakthrough that too few students benefited from, let alone knew about.

Eligibility expansions are not self-executing. State agencies that administer SNAP must inform college students and college staff about the availability of this new benefit—and they must do so promptly as the benefit is scheduled to end soon. The Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice sought to find out if there were any attempts by states to fulfill their vital education and outreach role around expanded SNAP eligibility for students.

The Hope Center conducted a review of the websites of state agencies and SNAP outreach partners in all 50 states to determine what states were communicating about expanded SNAP eligibility for students. Our scan sets a minimum benchmark for state implementation: making available eligibility information on the website of a relevant state entity.

Our findings show that eighteen states did not post information on expanded SNAP eligibility for students on relevant websites. Twenty-five states provided relevant information about expanded SNAP eligibility for students on state websites. Eight states provided relevant information about expanded SNAP eligibility for students on state websites and took additional steps to communicate or encourage the program’s use.