Number of Americans ages 19-24 receiving food stamps and enrolled in schools, including high schools, professional schools and universities, more than doubled from 2001-2010, according to analysis
September 26, 2013
– A growing number of undergraduates may be affected if a bill cutting $39 billion in food stamp aid over the next decade is signed into law.
Benjamin Olson, a senior at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in Champaign, credits the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) — often called food stamps — with his ability to graduate on time after transferring from a community college.
"If I didn't have those benefits … I may have had to do another semester, take a semester off, or save for the next four years," says Olson.
A growing number of undergraduates like Olson may be affected if a bill cutting $39 billion in food stamp aid over the next 10 years is signed into law.
An analysis of Current Population Surveys by Philip Trostel, professor of economics and public policy at the University of Maine, revealed that the number of people ages 19 to 24 receiving food stamps and enrolled in schools — including high schools, professional schools and universities — more than doubled from 2001 through 2010.
In 2001, 5.4% of students enrolled in school ages 19 to 24 received SNAP, whereas in 2010, 12.6% of students in the same age group were SNAP recipients.
"Reports from campus advisers suggest that the number of students needing help has increased," wrote Nicholas Freudenberg, professor at City University of New York (CUNY) School of Public Health and Hunter College, in an e-mail.
A 2010 report on food insecurity among CUNY students found that while an estimated 6.4% of students in 2010 received SNAP benefits, three times as many students who were eligible for SNAP did not apply.
Some students do not apply for SNAP benefits due to the stigma associated with the program.
"A lot of people are ashamed … to try and use it. I was at first," says Terry Foster, a junior at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.
While Foster is grateful from the program, he has also been frustrated by the rules. Foster has struggled most with the requirement that students must work 20 hours a week to qualify for SNAP. Foster began getting lower grades after enrolling in SNAP as a result of having to balance work and school.
Prior to welfare reform that occurred in the 1990s, students were able to count class and study time toward the SNAP work requirement. Since then, Nancy Weed, SNAP outreach manager at Partners for a Hunger-Free Oregon, has found many students like Foster struggle with the work requirement.
"I hear from many students who have gone back to school to increase their earning capacity in this recession who can't fit in 20 more hours on top of their loads," Weed wrote in an e-mail.
In addition to Partners for a Hunger-Free Oregon, the non-profit Hunger Solutions New York also has a student initiative to inform college students about SNAP.
"We found that a lot of students who were eligible for SNAP didn't know it, so instead were taking loan money out to pay for food," says David Reynolds, NOEP field operations director at Hunger Solutions New York.
Some students have been inspired to give back after receiving SNAP benefits.
Sarah Estrela, a student at Wheaton College in Norton, Mass. — who is studying abroad at Oxford University this year — says her family may have starved without SNAP. She credits the program with her motivation to go to college and pay it forward.
"Although the members of Congress who oppose this program might see the people who benefit from it as 'leeches who only take from the system,' what they don't realize is that programs like these help raise children who move on to make a difference in the world," wrote Estrela in an e-mail.
Olson also plans to give back.
"In the next 20 or 30 years I will pay that money back that I used for SNAPs … in taxes," says Olson.
Monica Vendituoli is a junior at Wheaton College.