Home Education Hidden Crisis: College Students Struggle with Food Insecurity, Facing SNAP Cuts and Uncertain Future

Hidden Crisis: College Students Struggle with Food Insecurity, Facing SNAP Cuts and Uncertain Future

by Editorial Desk
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In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, Joseph Sais, a first-year graduate student at Sacramento State University, found himself facing a critical moment when his eligibility for SNAP, commonly known as food stamps, was temporarily revoked. Sais, who grew up relying on welfare, had become heavily dependent on food stamps during his college years. The fear of going hungry loomed large, often distracting him from his studies. Fortunately, his eligibility was later restored, but Sais is just one of many full-time college students grappling with food insecurity.

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According to Radha Muthiah, the president of the Capital Area Food Bank, this crisis among college students has remained hidden until the pandemic shed light on it. Muthiah estimates that a staggering 30% of college students experience food insecurity. To alleviate this issue, the U.S. Department of Agriculture temporarily relaxed SNAP eligibility requirements, allowing financially aided students without expected family support and those in work-study programs to qualify. This resulted in approximately 3 million college students joining the program.

However, with the conclusion of the public health emergency, students already benefiting from SNAP faced a recertification deadline of June 30. Once this deadline passes, the program will gradually revert to its pre-pandemic rules based on individual state schedules. Consequently, potentially thousands of college students may lose access to this crucial program in the coming months.

Bryce McKibben, the senior director of policy and advocacy at Temple University’s Hope Center, warns that reverting to the old SNAP rules amidst increasing food insecurity rates could lead to a slow-rolling disaster. Hunger among college students is already on the rise due to inflation, as noted by Robb Friedlander, the director of advocacy for Swipe Out Hunger. This issue spans across campuses, regardless of their geographical location or political affiliation.

To combat this growing problem, numerous universities have established on-campus food pantries over the past decade. However, most of these pantries rely solely on donations, which limits their capacity to meet the increasing demand. Some on-campus pantries have innovated with 24-hour service models to accommodate the irregular schedules of college students. For instance, the Sacramento State pantry enables students to order groceries online and collect them from a secure locker. At Georgetown University, a locked room houses shelves of food, toiletries, and a refrigerator for perishables. Students in need can access the room by using a provided code.

Now, as more students are gradually removed from the SNAP lists, these pantries are preparing for a surge in demand. Swipe Out Hunger, in an article published in April, warned universities nationwide to brace themselves for this imminent spike in student need. They predict that as states terminate their emergency SNAP benefits, campus pantries and other on-campus hunger solutions programs will witness a corresponding rise in demand once the federal emergency benefits expire.

Despite the relaxed eligibility guidelines, many students still face bureaucratic hurdles and frustrations when navigating the SNAP system. For instance, Jessalyn Morales, a junior at Lehman College, struggled for months and faced five rejections before qualifying for SNAP during a sudden financial crisis. Morales had to choose between paying rent and buying food, relying on the campus food pantry and leftovers from her roommates to survive. She finally started receiving SNAP benefits in May, and her adept budgeting skills allow her to stretch her $260 monthly payment for two months if necessary.

Both Sais and Morales, in separate interviews, described their daily realities as “survival mode.” However, MacGregor Obergfell, assistant director of governmental affairs at the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities, warns that such circumstances breed hopelessness among students who seek higher education to break the cycle of generational poverty. Obergfell emphasizes the need to support and empower these students to succeed in college, stating that their basic needs must be met for them to thrive academically.

Sais also echoes this sentiment, expressing his desire to move beyond mere survival. “Sometimes I would like to thrive rather than just survive,” he said. “Fighting all your life is just tiring.”

Reported by Morga from New York.

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