Universities encourage students to enroll in food stamp program

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About 20,000 people sign up for food stamps every day, and college students across the country are the newest demographic being encouraged to enlist.

Portland State University devotes a page on its Web site to explaining the ease with which students can receive benefits, along with instructions on how to apply. The school says food stamps are not charity but rather a benefit all honest taxpaying citizens can afford. The U.S. Department of Agriculture renamed food stamps the Supplemental Nutrition and Assistance Program (SNAP) in 2008, instituted electronic debit cards instead of coupons, and began an aggressive push to expand eligibility. This is from the school’s site:

Here are some additional SNAP facts:
• Over half of all U.S. citizens will use SNAP at least once during their lifetime.
• SNAP is not a charity. As a taxpayer, you are paying into this program and, when needed, you can reap the benefits.
• There are enough SNAP dollars for everyone that needs them. As a matter of fact, about 20 percent of Oregonians who are eligible for SNAP do not apply.
• Students receiving SNAP can defer their student loans while they are receiving benefits.
• Applying for SNAP is easy. In most cases, you will not have to apply more than once a year.

Traditionally food stamps are for the working poor and single parents, but colleges are trying to make it as easy as possible for students to obtain federal assistance, no matter their socio-economic background.

Oregon has a state-wide non-profit which includes a special focus on food stamps for students:

Being a college student is hard work! Not just academically, but financially too. Many students are surprised to learn they may be eligible for SNAP (food stamps). Students who meet income guidelines may qualify if they meet at least one of the following criteria:

  • Full-time student who works at least 20 hours per week.
  • Full-time single student who is caring for children younger than the age of 12.
  • Full-time married student who is caring for children younger than the age of 6.
  • At least a half-time student who is actively working any hours in a work-study program.

Note: federal financial aid including Pell grants, Perkins loans, Stafford loans and most work-study is not counted as income against student eligibility.

In addition, the school notes that the federal government is working to eliminate the stigma associated with taking the government coupons to the checkout line:

Your EBT card looks and works like a debit card. You swipe it as you would a debit card, select “EBT” as the payment method, and enter the pin # that was assigned to you. No one except the cashier will know that it is an EBT card.

The Grand Views, a college newspaper from Grand View University in Des Moines, Iowa, featured a story on students who apply for food stamps because they claim they don’t have time to hold down a job between classes and basketball practices. The paper wrote:

Once you show up, you sign in on a computer, answer a few questions and then they tell you if you qualify. It’s pretty simple.

Massachusetts has several state-wide nonprofits that specifically help college students get food stamps. The Web site details the caveats associated with eligibility:

Q4: Can I get benefits if I still live with my parents?

If you are 22 or older, and if you buy and prepare more than half your meals separately from your parents, you can still apply for SNAP/Food Stamps for yourself.

Adam Sylvain, a sophomore at Virginia’s George Mason University, recounted a recent conversation with friends in his dorm room. “My roommate told me he applied for food stamps, and they told him he qualified for $200 a month in benefits,” Sylvain said. “He’s here on scholarship and he saves over $5,000 each summer in cash.”

“A few of our other friends who were in the room also said if there were able to, they would get food stamps … They think that if they’re eligible it’s the government’s fault, so they might as well,” Sylvain said.

Students at GMU can buy a meal plan for $1,275 that provides 10 meals a week for the semester — that’s $71 a week.

As previously reported by The Daily Caller, The USDA is pushing to regional SNAP offices to ease eligibility requirements and forgo checking people’s financial situations before providing benefits. President Obama’s latest budget included $72.5 billion for food stamps — nearly double the amount from 2008. Approximately 38 million people, or 13 percent of the U.S. population is on food stamps.

It’s a trend that seems on the rise — Salon recently reported on young, broke hipsters using federal assistance to buy high-end organic food:

“I’m sort of a foodie, and I’m not going to do the ‘living off ramen’ thing,” one young man said, fondly remembering a recent meal he’d prepared of roasted rabbit with butter, tarragon and sweet potatoes. “I used to think that you could only get processed food and government cheese on food stamps, but it’s great that you can get anything.”

The USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service did not respond to request for comment.

Contact Aleksandra at: ak[at]dailycaller[dot]com.