Governor Josh Shapiro’s administration expanded eligibility for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program on Aug. 15, aiming to help Pennsylvania college students who traditionally did not qualify due to their status as a student.
To qualify for SNAP benefits, students must meet standard SNAP eligibility requirements like income limits, meal plan accessibility and student exemptions. Additionally, they must qualify for at least one student exemption that allows them to receive the benefits on their own. Under the new program extension, enrollment in a qualifying employment or training program is now an exemption, increasing the number of students who are able to apply for assistance.
College students aren’t excluded from struggling with consistent access to food. Thirty-nine percent of students at two-year schools and 29 percent of students at four-year schools experienced food insecurity, according to a March 2021 study conducted by the Hope Center for College, Community and Justice.
September is Hunger Action Month, but college students across the country will continue to struggle with hunger all of the time. College students are responsible for a plethora of expenses while working toward a degree, and worrying about financing a basic need should not be an additional concern. Students who qualify for SNAP benefits should utilize the program to its fullest extent to nourish their bodies at a lesser cost while fostering their career and future.
SNAP benefits are provided monthly to those who qualify via an EBT card, which recipients can use to purchase foods at their local grocery stores and farmers markets, or online from select retailers.
Students can apply for SNAP benefits online, on the phone or in person. The Pennsylvania Department of Human Services website provides a guide for students on how to check their eligibility and begin the application process.
Under this new flexibility, a student enrolled in specific programs will meet the new exemption if that program serves students from households with low-incomes, is operated by a state or local government or provides the equivalent of at least one allowable activity under SNAP Employment and Training criteria, according to the Pennsylvania Pressroom.
The application requires significant preliminary information, but Temple has numerous resources available to assist students in following the procedure.
The Cherry Pantry, located on the second floor of the Howard Gittis Student Center, offers private SNAP services and one-on-one appointments with SNAP counselors to help ease the burden of the application process.
“We work really closely with the Coalition Against Hunger, to act as a liaison and really get that process of applying to SNAP started for you,” said Annette Ditolvo, program director for the Cherry Pantry. “We provide case management, so we can help you from the moment you begin to apply all the way through until you receive benefits.”
In addition to the Cherry Pantry, the Social Service Annex, which is located in the Ritter Annex basement, provides assistance and guidance with community resources to help students achieve a better quality of life and an improved likelihood of completing their degree.
When Olivia Dedman was applying for food stamps her freshman year, she said the Social Services Annex was an incredibly helpful and knowledgeable resource.
“There’s multiple steps and it’s a lot of things that students also have never had to look at before unless they’ve applied for it before,” said Dedman, a sophomore public relations major. “It’s just definitely something you have to know how to do and I think that the Social Service Annex can be a helpful spot for that. They helped me through the whole process and they were super sweet about it.”
Without easy access to fresh and healthy food, a student’s long-term health can be put at tremendous risk. Food insecurity influences health and can lead to negative consequences such as depression, anxiety, obesity and increased risk of other chronic diseases like heart disease and diabetes, according to the United States Department of Health and Human Services.
Temple students have resources available, like SNAP and the Cherry Pantry, to assist them with food insecurity, and should not feel guilty about asking for help because these programs exist to serve, and all qualifying individuals are deserving of their assistance.
A large percentage of students may still be able to eat, but they rely on inexpensive, unhealthy foods such as ramen noodles and canned foods to feed themselves, which can lead to weight gain and health complications, said David Sarwer, associate dean for research and the director of the Center for Obesity Research and Education within Temple’s College of Public Health.
“They may be developing the early stages of diseases like diabetes and hypertension, which we used to think about as being diseases that only impacted adults in the middle of their lives, but we’re seeing many more 20 somethings and adolescents who are being affected by those diseases as well,” Sarwer said.
Diabetes rates among people under the age of 20 have been surging, according to an August 2021 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Type 2 diabetes is often linked to inactivity and obesity, and the number of young people living with it in the United States had risen 95 percent from 2001 to 2017.
Additionally, young adults aged 18-24 have an underrecognized issue with hypertension, attributed largely to their higher rates of cigarette use, obesity and salt consumption than the general population, according to a April 2023 study published in the National Library of Medicine.
Linh Nguyen has also applied for SNAP benefits and occasionally utilizes the Cherry Pantry for short-term support when purchasing groceries is not in her budget.
“It’s definitely something not to be ashamed of, and whenever you are in a difficult situation, there are always resources to help you,” said Nguyen, a junior data science major. “I think it’s just a good thing, as a community as a whole, you help somebody else and then maybe in the future, they will have a chance to help you out.”
Resources, like SNAP, exist as a form of payment to be used without judgment, and any person who qualifies can combat food insecurity by taking advantage of the benefits available to them. Students struggling with food insecurity should look into their SNAP eligibility and reach out to trusted resources to protect their health, well-being and comfort on campus.