Students: Get food stamps

Students may not even realize they qualify for SNAP benefits that could help them afford groceries.

Connor Nikolic

The government-funded Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or food stamp program, is causing heated debate in Washington. The Right demanded cuts in funding, citing outliers who abuse the system. The Left pointed to the program’s users who are employed but still cannot afford to pay for monthly groceries in addition to medical and living expenses.

I am not a politician, nor do I aspire to become one. I’m a student who values my own well-being. I won’t waste time urging officials to support or cut funding for SNAP. Rather, I want to encourage my peers to use the program while it is available.

We don’t know how the students receiving SNAP assistance would be affected by a proposed $40 billion cut. However, as the law currently stands, some University of Minnesota students could help themselves by enrolling in the program.

More than 12 percent of students ages 19 to 24 rely on food stamps nationwide. Although this number has risen significantly, there are still many students who qualify for SNAP but don’t enroll.

Who is eligible?

Most students don’t qualify for SNAP assistance. However, a student who is enrolled at least half-time and takes part in a work-study program, works at least 20 hours a week, receives assistance benefits under Title IV-A or is raising a child may qualify. There are some additional requirements that can be found on the Food and Nutrition Service website. If you live on campus and more than half of your meals come from a school meal plan, then you are not eligible.

I personally don’t qualify for the program. However, my roommate has used food stamps since the beginning of the semester. He applied online in August, and he’s since received about $130 on his EBT, or Electronic Benefit Transfer, account. Although it might not sound like much, these funds, in addition to his regular paycheck, have allowed him to afford essential groceries on top of the monthly bills.

Why not?

Most students don’t enroll in SNAP is because of the negative stigma attached to the program. For decades, media outlets and politicians have been associating food stamps with people who are lazy and abuse the system for some easy cash. Slate even profiled Minneapolis “hipsters” who use food stamps to buy fancy food from The Wedge, an Uptown-based food co-op.

However, 83 percent of funds dispersed through the SNAP program go to households with a child, an elderly person or a disabled person. Also, with the average benefit an individual receives amounting to less than $1.50 per meal, there is simply no way someone could make a living off of their food stamp benefits. Although these claims against people relying on the program have been proven to be false, people are still embarrassed to rely on this program.

It’s entirely possible the new regulations for food stamp use will change how many students are capable of using the program. If the program is indeed cut by $40 billion, those already on the program could be kicked out as opposed to new people being ushered in. Still, as long as it’s an option, eligible students should look into food stamps.