Addressing Student Food Insecurity with a SNAP

by Kyle Winterboer*

As students return to in-person school, it is an important time to revisit the issue of food insecurity across America’s educational system. Particularly in Higher Education, recent studies suggest student food insecurity levels had reached as high as 38% in Spring 2020 and 5.8 of every 10 students experienced some form of basic needs insecurity. These rates have dramatically increased throughout the duration of the pandemic because students sent home for lock-down no longer had access to the already limited forms of support available in person on campuses.

A common tool used to fight food insecurity is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Despite its successes in reducing hunger and the economic benefits the program introduces to stimulate local economies, SNAP has many limitations and needs reform to better address food insecurity. One such limitation is that policy makers have long denied students access to SNAP. While the past decade has brought some expansions to grant students access, significant barriers remain. Barriers include restrictive student eligibility criteria and mixed messaging that leaves students misinformed of their eligibility. This policy failure leaves students hungry, many of whom would otherwise be eligible for aid if they were not pursuing higher education.

To show the real human impacts of these policy failings, journalist Alejandra Salgado details student stories in an article that appeared in CalMatters and was shared by Civil Eats: Colleges Rush to Sign Students Up for Food Aid, as Pandemic Rules Make More Eligible | Civil Eats

To provide additional context to the policies described in Salgado’s reporting, the below contains insights from Resnick Center Research Assistant Kyle Winterboer in this policy area. This research comes from his time with the student led research advocacy group “unBox”, the assistance of the UCLA CalFresh Initiative, his own application process amidst the pandemic, and from his time implementing a little known policy solution across UCLA departments to better support students in their SNAP applications.

The Resnick Center thanks the unBox Project and the UCLA CalFresh Initiative for readily sharing information for this report, and their continued dedication to the mission of ensuring equitable access to food for all.

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