Students struggling to buy groceries can consider the option of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps. While it may be unpopular among some college students, there are some who are willing to give it a shot.
Michael Scott, junior in kinesiology, said he has had experience with food stamps in the past. Scott, a native of east St. Louis, Illinois, said his sister uses SNAP in Illinois and let him borrow her electronic benefit transfer card from time to time to get groceries.
“She would just mail me the card and tell me how much I could spend,” Scott said. “I saved about 60 bucks every time she let me use it.”
Scott said his sister is a mother of two children and raises them on her own.
“She needs it way more than me,” Scott said. “But she looks out for me like that, so she would let me use it sometimes.”
Scott said he would have never asked his sister if he did not really need help.
“At the time, I definitely needed it,” Scott said. “I’m back on my feet now. I’m good.”
College students living in poverty
There are more college-age people living below the poverty level in Kansas than any other age group. In 2014, about 28 percent of people living below the poverty level in the state of Kansas were between the ages of 18 and 24, according to the “People living below poverty level” page of the Kansas Health Matters website.
According to a report from the U.S. Census Bureau, however, “Examining the effect of off-campus college students on poverty rates,” from 2009 to 2011 Manhattan was ranked 24th on the list of cities with populations between 20,000-65,000 with significant changes in poverty rates after excluding off-campus college students.
There was a 16 percent change in the percentage of people living in poverty when excluding college students living off campus.
This means that from 2009 to 2011, the percentage of people below the poverty level in Manhattan was 16 percent higher when including college students who lived off campus, according to census.gov.
More simply put, college students who lived off campus in Manhattan accounted for about 57 percent of the reported people living in poverty from 2009 to 2011.
SNAP is a federal assistance program that is offered to low-income households across the U.S. It offers monthly benefits to families or individuals in need. Benefits come in the form of an electronic benefit transfer to spend on food. EBT is accepted in most grocery stores and is made to look just like a debit card and is used as such.
According to the Kansas Department for Children and Families, there was a monthly average of 3,141 people using SNAP in the fiscal year of 2015, a 5 percent decrease from 2014.
In the month of February, there were 134,208 adults using SNAP, with an average cost of about $110.75 per person, according to the “Public Assistance Report Fiscal Year 2016” from the Kansas Department for Children and Families.
The statistics do not say anything about college students. According to the USDA’s website, however, college students are eligible for SNAP benefits if they meet a list of requirements.
Most able-bodied students are not eligible for SNAP, but there are some exceptions, which include working at least 20 hours a week and taking part in a state or federally-financed work study program, according to the USDA’s website.
Brett Zapletal, senior in finance and peer financial counselor for K-State’s Powercat Financial Counseling, said he provides students with financial advice, usually regarding budgeting, credit and student loans.
Zapletal said he has never been asked questions about how to be eligible for SNAP, but he thinks more students should explore that option.
“If it’s something you really need,” Zapletal said. “You should do everything in your power to get it.”
Requirements may be too much
The requirements to be eligible in Kansas seem unfair, but it depends on the person, Zapletal said.
“Each situation is different,” Zapletal said. “There are many factors. The student’s major, dependability on parents all come into play.”
Zapletal said when it comes to eligibility, he can see an argument for those who think the government is demanding too much.
“Chemical engineers can’t work 20 hours a week,” Zapletal said. “There’s no way.”
Theresa Freed, communications director for the Kansas Department for Children and Families, said the requirements for student eligibility changed in 2013 so that students would have to work.
“It encourages work and self-reliance,” Freed said.
Freed said it is easy to apply and applications are usually processed in 8-10 days, but the applicant could find out if they are eligible in one day in some cases.
Zapletal said if students wanted SNAP but were not eligible, the best he could do to help them out is to try to structure a budgeting plan for them.
“My advice to students struggling financially would be to look into scholarships and grants,” Zapletal said. “They’re everywhere and they can save you way more money than you’d expect.”
Scott said he would consider applying for his own SNAP benefits if he ever needed them again, but doesn’t think he’d meet the requirements.
“Food stamps would help a lot,” Scott said. “But there’s no way I can work 20 hours a week and keep my grades right.”