The Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report last week detailing the challenge of food insecurity among college students in the United States. The report contains information gathered from a review of 31 current studies around food insecurity and in-depth examinations of 14 different campuses offering a range of interventions to address student hunger. Here are a few of our major take-aways from the GAO report:
1. Students who could be eligible for SNAP benefits are not even applying for them. The report indicates that as many as 2 million students who could be eligible for SNAP benefits are not connected with them. Students and staff on campuses are often unaware of the requirements and unsure how to locate information on student eligibility (p.18-19). In addition to clarifying the requirements and sharing information more extensively (pg. 40), Single Stop would also recommend educating a core group of campus staff in SNAP requirements who can help students navigate the process of applying.
2. Eligibility requirements makes access for full-time students difficult. Students enrolled full time in college often do not meet the required 20 hour-per-week work requirements for SNAP. Students may be exempt if they meet other requirements, such as having dependent children (pg. 9), In addition, work/study students do typically meet the requirement, but the work requirement continues to be a significant barrier for students. When gaps in benefits occur, forming close relationships with services outside of campus and providing services (like food pantries) on campus when possible can help make up the difference.
3. More students from low income backgrounds are enrolling in college. The GAO intentionally points out that the ‘typical’ college student (18-22 years of age, just out of high school, financially dependent on their parents) is becoming the minority in the United States. With billions of dollars in aid allocated to financial aid and scholarship funds, more students from low-income backgrounds and with differing life circumstances are enrolling in college (pg. 4-6). Programs to support their basic needs are needed to help them succeed, in addition to more data about the prevalence of food insecurity among students. The report mentions in brief that more campuses are choosing to centralize their student services to make access easier (pg. 25-26); collecting data about the needs of your student body and sharing it widely can help to meet the need for more information in addition to assisting students in need.
The GAO report brings the challenges students face in accessing SNAP and other food assistance programs to the attention of law makers and spotlights the growing need for holistic aid structures for students struggling to meet basic needs. Please review the report in its entirety for details about how the GAO conducted its study, and share widely with your colleagues!