Legislation Would Permanently Expand SNAP Eligibility for College Students

As pandemic-related Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) eligibility for college students ends, the federal Enhance Access to SNAP (EATS) Act would expand access to the program.
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Published on May 12, 2023
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  • New legislation would expand SNAP eligibility to millions of college students, according to a press release.
  • The Enhance Access to SNAP (EATS) Act of 2023 would expand SNAP eligibility to all college students who attend two- or four-year colleges part time or more, as well as those who meet traditional SNAP income and eligibility requirements.
  • Pandemic-era exemptions that allowed more college students to qualify for SNAP are set to expire soon after the state of emergency ended May 11.
  • Food insecurity was a problem on college campuses well before the pandemic.

With pandemic-related expanded Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) eligibility expiring, newly proposed federal legislation would permanently ensure that low-income college students are eligible for that program.

The Enhance Access to SNAP (EATS) Act of 2023 would expand SNAP eligibility to all college students who attend two- or four-year colleges part time or more, as well as those who meet traditional SNAP income and eligibility requirements, according to a press release from U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-New York, who is sponsoring the bill in the Senate.

College students are generally only eligible for SNAP under specific exemptions, but Congress authorized a pair of temporary new exemptions during the COVID-19 pandemic, BestColleges previously reported.

Those exemptions allow students to qualify for SNAP if they are eligible for state or federal work-study programs, even if they don't participate, and if they have an expected family contribution (EFC) of $0 when applying for financial aid.

After the COVID-19 emergency expired May 11, however, those emergency exemptions are set to expire in less than 30 days.

"With emergency COVID-19 SNAP benefits for college students set to expire next month, we need to simplify eligibility for critical SNAP benefits to combat food insecurity plaguing low-income college students across New York State and the country," Gillibrand said in the release.

"The EATS Act would eliminate work-for-food barriers for low-income students and ensure that as many as 4 million college students nationwide can access the SNAP benefits needed to learn and thrive. College students should never have to choose between food and their education — the time to act is now."

U.S. Rep. Jimmy Gomez, D-California, who is among the House sponsors of the bill, said the legislation would make higher education more accessible.

"The fight to end food insecurity is personal to me because my siblings and I relied on free meals at school and during the summers to stay healthy and fed when I was young," Gomez said in a release.

"For so many, higher education is unattainable not just because of sky-rocketing tuition costs but also because of the lack of food security. I'm introducing the EATS Act to break down barriers to higher education and ensure no student goes to bed hungry. Our legislation is a necessary step to provide an equitable, healthy learning environment for all of our country's bright young minds."

Food insecurity among college students was a problem long before the pandemic, but it was exasperated in recent years, according to a fact sheet from Gillibrand based on information from The Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice at Temple University.

Roughly 39% of college students at two-year institutions and 29% at four-year institutions experience food insecurity, according to the fact sheet.

That figure is significantly higher for historically underrepresented students, including students of color and LGBTQ students, according to the fact sheet.

"If students can't afford food or other basic needs, they're far less likely to succeed in school and much more likely to drop out," Mark Huelsman, director of policy and advocacy for the Hope Center, previously told BestColleges.

U.S. Rep. Alma Adams, D-North Carolina, another sponsor of the bill and professor at Bennett College in Greensboro, said the legislation would mean that "low-income students will no longer choose between their meals and their education."

"As a college professor for four decades, I've seen what happens when students go hungry. Food security programs shouldn't punish students for pursuing the education they need to be successful in the workforce, and in life," Adams said in a release.

"That's why the Act extends pandemic era improvements to SNAP that prevent student hunger and eliminate burdensome obligations that hinder student performance."

This isn't the first time the EATS Act has been introduced in Congress: Gomez introduced similar legislation in 2021, but it failed to pass. Another previous bill, the College Student Hunger Act, would have expanded SNAP to Pell Grant recipients, according to BestColleges, but that legislation likewise failed to pass.