Democratic senators propose expanding nutrition assistance for college students

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In a letter to U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer on Thursday, three Democratic senators proposed increasing individual assistance for college students facing food insecurity.

The letter, written by Sens. Kamala Harris, D-California, Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass. and Chris Murphy, D-Conn., proposes that the Disaster Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or D-SNAP, be eligible for activation during a pandemic. SNAP, previously known as the Food Stamp Program, is already providing nutrition assistance for many Americans, but college students are largely excluded from these benefits under current regulations, according to the letter.

If D-SNAP were activated, many college students could gain access to SNAP benefits, the letter explains.

“College students were among the first to experience substantial changes as the nation worked to combat the COVID-19 pandemic,” the letter reads. “As policymakers, we must bolster protections for our most vulnerable college students during this uncertain time. Opening D-SNAP to college students would ensure their immediate needs are met.”

According to the letter, college students are facing “unprecedented challenges” due to the COVID-19 pandemic, with many students having lost the “safety net” provided by campus services due to stay-at-home orders.

Even the resources still available to UC Berkeley students do not assist everyone equally, according to ASUC Student Advocate-elect Joyce Huchin. Students can only access CalFresh, California’s food stamps program, if they meet specific criteria, including being a U.S. citizen or legal permanent resident, Huchin added. Expanding campus nutrition assistance resources is a necessary step in supporting students, Huchin said in an email.

In order to access SNAP benefits, college students must meet specific eligibility requirements, including working at least 20 hours a week or having dependent children under age 12, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Service’s website. Because of these criteria, according to the letter, many food-insecure college students are ineligible for nutrition assistance.

“As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, students have lost on- and off-campus campus employment and can no longer fulfill the SNAP 20-hour work requirement,” the letter reads. “Thus, even the few students who could access benefits are now ineligible for SNAP benefits.”

Activating D-SNAP during this pandemic would allow the program to provide assistance for college students who are employed or unemployed as well as to students who have dropped, as long as they meet income requirements, according to the letter.

The letter adds that for those already enrolled in SNAP, this change would provide them with the maximum level of nutrition assistance.

“When disasters occur, like this pandemic, we should be pressing elected officials to implement D-SNAP to assist more students than those who’d usually apply,” said ASUC Senator Melvin Tangonan.

Contact Alexandra Feldman at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @a_p_feldman.