Starving College Students Turning to Food Stamps

Filed under: In The News, Mealtime, Teen Culture, Nutrition: Teens, Education: Teens

The stereotype of the starving college student conjures up images of co-eds subsisting on cases of ramen noodles and food smuggled out of the cafeteria by friends with meal plans.

But these days, that stereotype may be more truth than fiction.

College counselors say there's an alarming trend going on in the college community, as many students are asking for free food. As a result, record numbers of students are applying for food stamps, reports KCRA 3 News in Sacramento, Calif.

Lasandra Brown, a junior at Sacramento State, tells KCRA 3 she considers herself a starving college student.

"No one wants to go hungry or not have anything to eat because you're trying to pay rent or other things," she tells KCRA 3.

Brown is one of 1,500 students in California's Sacramento County who receives food stamps every month. This is a sharp increase from just two years ago, when 700 students were reported to receive food stamps. As a result, the Sacramento County Department of Human Assistance (DHA) is struggling to keep up with the flood of new applications, according to the news report.

"For college students who are eligible, the number of students receiving food stamps has increased by 113 percent," DHA spokesperson Paul Lake tells KCRA 3.

In October 2008, the federal Food Stamp Program changed its name to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), reflecting the program's new focus on nutrition and putting healthy food within reach for low-income households, according to the USDA's Food and Nutrition Service (FNS), the federal agency that administers the program.

The old name also became outdated with the switch to the electronic benefit transfer (EBT) card system, which replaced the original paper stamps or coupons. The EBT card looks and works just like a debit card at the checkout counter -- you swipe it, select the "EBT" payment method and then enter your pin.

SNAP debit cards can be used in about 171,000 authorized retail stores nationwide -- including grocery stores, convenience stores, markets or co-ops, according to the FNS.

But rumbling stomachs alone may be enough to motivate students to apply for SNAP.

It's no secret that there are many hungry students at Sacramento's Cosumnes River College (CRC), says the news report. Kathy Degn, a CRC counselor, says she has many students who come and talk to her about something, and then at the end of the conversation ask for a candy bar, granola bar, piece of fruit or something else they can eat.

CRC is one of the growing numbers of colleges that offers the SNAP application on campus. Portland State University has a page on its website dedicated to information on SNAP for students, and officials advise students to apply for SNAP if they're still struggling financially after grants, loans and a part-time job.

In an effort to reassure students who may fear the social stigma attached to public assistance, Portland State's website offers that "no one except the cashier will know that it is an EBT card and not a debit card."

To help simplify the application process, the FNS website provides an online prescreening tool that can be used to help determine eligibility. By answering a few simple questions about income, assets and basic living expenses, one can quickly determine whether they're likely to qualify for benefits.

To determine eligibility, further instructions are provided regarding the application process and how to expedite the process if your resources are very low. Some states also allow people to apply online.

"I don't plan to be on food stamps forever, this is going to be a short-term thing to just help me get where I need to go right now," Brown tells KCRA 3.

Related: Start Saving Early to Pay for College

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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.