July 28, 2021

Gillibrand Announces Eats Act To Expand Snap Benefits For Eligible College Students

As Many As 290,000 New York College Students And Almost 4 Million Nationwide Will Become Newly Eligible For SNAP Benefits Under The EATS Act

Today, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, member of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, announced her bicameral legislation that would expand Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefit eligibility to college students attending 2 and 4-year universities part-time or more and some graduate students who also meet traditional SNAP income and other eligibility requirements. According to a 2019 SUNY survey, 55% of community college and 41% of 4-year college students in the SUNY system reported experiencing hunger while in school. Student work requirements, known as “work for food,” exacerbate food insecurity among college students and impede student learning, health, and stability. U.S. Representatives Jimmy Gomez (D-CA), Josh Harder (D-CA), and Jimmy Panetta (D-CA) are leading this legislation in the House of Representatives.

“College students should never have to choose between food and an education. We need to simplify eligibility for critical SNAP benefits to combat food insecurity plaguing low-income college students across New York State and the country,” said Senator Gillibrand. This important legislation would eliminate work-for-food barriers for low-income students and ensure that nearly 4 million eligible college students can access the SNAP benefits needed to learn and thrive.”

“Breaking down barriers to higher education extends far beyond making college affordable, especially for first-generation students and students of color,” said Congressman Jimmy Gomez who introduced this bill in the House of Representatives earlier this year. “If we ignore the hunger crisis on campuses nationwide, we are setting this generation of students up for failure. The EATS Act is a necessary step to provide an equitable, healthy learning environment for all of our country’s bright young minds.” 

"Struggling against hunger hurts college students' chances to complete their education now and undermines their financial success in the long-term," said Food Research & Action Center (FRAC) President Luis Guardia. "FRAC applauds Senator Gillibrand on her bill to ensure that college students have equitable access to SNAP."

“Although SNAP is our nation’s most effective tool for fighting hunger, many food-insecure college students are excluded from its benefits,” said Andres Vives, Interim Executive Director of Hunger Solutions New York. “By permanently expanding SNAP access to struggling college students, this bill takes a huge step forward in addressing the growing hunger crisis in higher education. We thank Senator Gillibrand for her leadership and her work to ensure that all students have the food they need to succeed.” 

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, students on college campuses in New York and across the nation were experiencing high levels of food insecurity and hunger. According to The Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice, food insecurity is a serious problem on college campuses across the nation, especially for students of color, first generation students, low-income students, and students at community colleges: 

  • In the fall of 2018, 45% of college students were food insecure in the prior 30 days
  • In the fall of 2018, 48% of CUNY undergraduates were food insecure in the prior 30 days
  • In the fall of 2019, 36% of SUNY students were food insecure in the prior 30 days
  • Students of color were more likely to experience basic needs insecurity; 75% of Indigenous, 70% of Black, and 70% of Native American or Alaska Native students experienced food insecurity, housing insecurity, and/or homelessness.

Today’s SNAP eligibility rules for students are overly complicated and only include college students working 20 hours per week or participating in a federal or state work study, or those who meet very specific exemptions. In December 2020, Congress passed the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021, which temporarily extended SNAP eligibility to students who are eligible for federal or state work study and students with an Expected Family Contribution (EFC) of $0, including students eligible for the maximum Pell Grant. These temporary student eligibility changes for SNAP will remain in effect until 30 days after the federally declared COVID-19 public health emergency ends. The EATS Act goes a step further and would permanently ensure that low-income college students have equitable access to SNAP benefits by amending the Food and Nutrition Act of 2008 to include “attending an institution of higher education” as a form of qualification the same as work. With this change, 470,000 New York college students would qualify for SNAP assistance, including as many as 290,000 newly eligible students.

For a one-pager of the EATS Act, click here. 

For the bill text of the EATS Act, click here.

For the endorsement list, click here.