SNAP expanded for qualifying students

HARRISBURG – Department of Human Services Secretary Teresa Miller and Pennsylvania Department of Education Deputy Secretary for Postsecondary and Higher Education Dr. Tanya I. Garcia have announced a temporary change in eligibility for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, expanding eligibility to certain college students who qualify based off their families’ income but normally would be ineligible for the program due to being a student.

“Our ways of life and routines have changed to keep ourselves and our communities safe from this virus. Jobs that students would normally work on campuses or around their schools may have reduced hours or are not an option anymore, meaning that students and families with more limited resources may be struggling even more to meet their most essential needs,” said Miller. “In a time when so many are struggling, we are hopeful that this will be another resource that we can extend to families who are feeling this economic strain most acutely. We urge congress to make this change permanent, so that no student has to go hungry again.”

“Food insecurity is yet another issue that learners are facing during the pandemic, and should not create further barriers to academic success,” added Garcia. “I am grateful to Secretary Miller and the Department of Human Services for helping raise awareness about the expansion of SNAP benefits for college students and their families across the commonwealth.”

Eligibility rules set by the federal government dictate that students ages 18 through 49 who are enrolled in college at least half time are not eligible for SNAP unless they meet certain exemptions, including working an average of 20 hours or more per week, participating in a state or federal work study program, having a disability, or being a parent of a child under age six. Even if students reside at home with parents who qualify for and receive SNAP, they are not counted in the household unless they meet one of the exemptions.

Under the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021, college students who are eligible for a state or federal work study program, regardless of whether they are actually participating, or students who have an estimated family contribution of $0 on their federal student aid determination are now eligible for SNAP. For those under the age of 22 for students who live at home with their parents. For now, these families will receive a benefit more commensurate to their household size that they would otherwise not get because their household contains a student.

This eligibility will remain in place until 30 days after the public health emergency ends. Since the Biden Administration has advised that the declaration will most likely remain in place at least until the end of 2021 and states will have 60 days-notice before it ends, this policy change will more than likely be something that can help families for the remainder of the crisis.

A Government Accountability Office report released in January 2019 found that at least one in three college students do not always have enough to eat. Additionally, 71 percent of college students today do not fit the model of a “typical” college student and may be financially independent, work at least part time, enroll in and stay in college at a later age, or have dependent children. These factors, when paired with other challenges students face like cost of tuition, lodging and/or transportation, books, and supplies, can create significant barriers to making ends meet. The report includes a literature review of 31 studies of college hunger and indicated there was a range of 9-50 percent of students who experienced food insecurity on campuses but that in 22 of these studies, food insecurity was estimated to be above 30 percent of the students surveyed.

Enrollment for SNAP statewide has increased by 84,389 people since February 2020, for a total enrollment of about 1,821,848 in December — a 4.9 percent increase. SNAP enrollment has trended slightly down since September. However, under the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021, Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) will no longer be counted as income for people applying for SNAP eligibility, opening SNAP as an option for more people who have lost income or employment due to the pandemic.

SNAP is the nation’s most important and effective anti-hunger program. For every meal provided through a Feeding America Food Bank, SNAP provides nine. SNAP provides individuals and families with funds that can only be used to purchase fresh food and groceries, helping Pennsylvanians with limited resources have a set, stable food budget and expanding their purchasing power to meet other essential household needs.

Enrollment statewide for Medicaid has increased by 337,772 people since February 2020, for a total enrollment of 3,169,335 people in November — a 12 percent increase.

Pennsylvanians who have lost health coverage or are currently uninsured and need coverage for themselves or their children may qualify for coverage through Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). Medicaid and CHIP provide coverage for routine and emergency health services, tests and screenings, prescriptions, and COVID-19 testing and treatment are covered by both Medicaid and CHIP. Medicaid and CHIP enroll individuals throughout the year and do not have a limited or special enrollment time, so people needing health coverage can apply for these programs at any time. There are income limits for Medicaid, but all children qualify for comprehensive health, vision, and dental coverage through CHIP regardless of their parents’ income.

Applications for SNAP, Medicaid, and other public assistance programs that provide help with utilities, home energy, and cash assistance can be submitted online at Those who prefer to submit a paper application can print from the website, pick one up at a County Assistance Office, or request an application by phone at 1-800-692-7462 and mail it to their local CAO or place it in a CAO’s secure drop box, if available. You do not need to know your own eligibility in order to apply. While CAOs remain closed, work processing applications, determining eligibility, and issuing benefits continues. Clients should use COMPASS or the MyCOMPASS PA mobile app to submit necessary updates to their case files while CAOs are closed to the public.