Economically, college students are the perfect candidates for food stamps but many fail to qualify.
By ALEX DUDLEY
ATLANTA — The difficulties college students face financially are astounding. Year-by-year, tuition, on-campus living, and meal plan costs seem to increase. This puts a tremendous financial burden on incoming and current college students.
Tristan Lee and Markis Dean, recent graduates from Georgia State University understand these struggles first hand. During their four years, they made several attempts to receive food stamps but never met the qualifications. After years of failed attempts, they decided the government should change the qualifications to make it easier to assist struggling college students.
“I believe the qualifications required don’t even fit the characteristics of most college students,” Lee said.
- Low-income people are eligible for food stamps if they work part-time or for low wages or are unemployed, on welfare, homeless, elderly or disabled. For college students to qualify for food stamps, they must meet one of those qualifications plus one of the following conditions, according to the United States Department of Agriculture: Get public assistance benefits under a federal Student Support and Academic Enrichment Program.
- Take part in a state or federally financed work study program
- Work at least 20 hours a week
- Take care of a dependent household member under the age of 6
- Take care of a household member over the age of 5 but under 12, without adequate child care to attend school and work 20 hours, or
- Be assigned to one of several federal work training programs.
The Tristan Lee Experience
Heading into college, Lee knew her college years would be a struggle financially. Due to her strenuous school schedule and extracurricular activities, finding a job was difficult. She was taking five to six classes, while participating in multicultural groups on campus.
As any college kid would do, she started asking her parents for extra money. This of course put a financial strain on her and her family, causing her to apply for food stamps. She applied, thinking her low income should qualify her. Her thinking was quite reasonable. Like most college students, she had a very low income. She thought for sure this would qualify her.
“The qualifications are extremely bogus,” she said. “You would think with all the responsibilities college students have to bear, the government would offer more assistance. In my opinion food should never be a struggle. I know having food stamps would have made my college experience easier.”
When asked about her experience on campus, Lee expressed disgust with the meal plan system. Due to financial difficulties, Lee could only purchase the cheapest meal plan. According to the Georgia State food services department, the cheapest meal plan cost $1,916 per semester, giving students 65 meals per semester.
“Universities give you no choice,” she said. “Sixty-five meals for me was not enough for an entire semester. If you eat three meals a day, 65 meals will quickly vanish. . They do the best they can to get student to purchase the $1,916 meal plan. It’s not a coincidence the most expensive meal is the most sufficient choice.”
The Markis Dean Experience
Markis Dean, a recent student at Georgia State had a different experience. He, like most students, came from a middle-class family, so he did not qualify for federal financial aid.
The cost of staying on campus forced him to stay off campus. Dean quickly realized he had to search for other options financially to make ends meet. He did work-study on campus, qualifying him to receive $100 monthly toward food.
When asked about the difference food stamps made, Dean highlighted the positives that come with food stamps. He mentioned how receiving food stamps allowed him to focus more on his schoolwork, work less, and eat healthy.
“Food stamps made life easier while I was in school. After paying rent and utilities, I hardly had money left over,” Dean said. “Before receiving my food stamps, I was eating fast food and junk food every day.”
Dean showed extreme gratitude toward food stamps. Before he understood all the qualifications, he encouraged college students to apply.
“Food stamps were a big sigh of relief. I was trying to convince every college student I ran into to apply,” Dean said
Dean soon realized the error in the system. He would constantly ask students about their food stamp application, only to realize receiving food stamps wasn’t easy. He reviewed the qualifications and immediately became outraged.
“These qualifications are a complete joke,” he said. “It’s almost as if they intentionally make the qualifications harder forcing students to purchase more expensive meal plans. To me it shows they don’t care, nor are they willing to make a effort.”
Opinions from EBT caseworker
William Howard, a caseworker for the Electronic Bank Transfer program for the Department of Agriculture’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (better known as food stamps), offers his explanation.
“I would love to see the EBT program cater to college students. They struggle to stay in school and work full-time is hard enough on young adults,” Howard said. “Providing a specific EBT program for students would tremendously reduce the financial burden.”
Howard noted that a food stamp program for college students is a great idea, but it’s far fetched. He said the program puts more emphasis on reducing the amount of people abusing the system; causing them to pay little attention to future developments.
Howard sees this as an opportunity for the food stamp program to change and make a difference.
“In order for this idea to become a reality, college students are going to have to make an effort to bring awareness to this situation,” Howard said. “Once you raise the awareness of a situation, that’s when you will see progression.”
A good way to improve an issue is to get feedback or suggestions. Tristan Lee, Markis Dean, and William Howard provided insightful suggestions to improve the food stamps qualifications for college students. Students deserve another option financially besides the typical options that are being provided.
- Create a program through food stamps dedicated to college students
- Employment opportunities with the state in return for food stamps
- Lengthen the qualifications for food stamps
- Set income barriers designed only for college students
- Allow universities to have food stamp choices in campus cafeterias.