Education Department Amplifies USDA Expansion of SNAP Benefits to Help Students Pursuing Postsecondary Education During Pandemic

Education Department Amplifies USDA Expansion of SNAP Benefits to Help Students Pursuing Postsecondary Education During Pandemic

February 23, 2021

As part of its ongoing efforts to ease the economic burden on millions of Americans during the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. Department of Education—in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)—issued guidance to postsecondary institutions to inform them about temporarily expanded Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) eligibility for students in need.

"Since the onset of this pandemic, college students already living with low incomes have experienced significant life disruptions including increased food insecurity," said Acting Assistant Secretary for Postsecondary Education Michelle Asha Cooper. "No student should have to worry about where their next meal will come from while balancing their studies. Informing eligible students of these benefits can help ease that uncertainty."

The guidance encourages institutions of higher education to coordinate with campus stakeholders to notify eligible students. Today's action follows Jan. 29 guidance reminding institutions that they have the authority to adjust financial aid packages to account for students' and families' current financial circumstances. These outreach efforts align with President Biden's Jan. 22 Executive Order directing all federal agencies to address the economic crisis resulting from the pandemic.

"This health and economic crisis has left millions out of work or struggling to cover basic expenses. We are pleased to work with our partners at the Department of Education, to help inform students about the recent expansion of SNAP eligibility for low-income students," said USDA Deputy Under Secretary for Food, Nutrition, and Consumer Services Stacy Dean. "The guidance issued today is part of the Biden Administration's push to act quickly to address hunger and support those who are struggling."

Under regular SNAP eligibility requirements, students enrolled at least half-time in an institution of higher education are typically ineligible for SNAP benefits unless they meet certain specific exemptions. The Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021 temporarily expands SNAP eligibility to include students who either:

  • Are eligible to participate in state or federally financed work study during the regular academic year, as determined by the institution of higher education; or
  • Have an expected family contribution (EFC) of 0 in the current academic year. This includes students who are eligible for a maximum Pell Grant.

Beginning Jan. 16, 2021, students who meet one of the two criteria outlined above may receive SNAP benefits if they meet all other financial and non-financial SNAP eligibility criteria. The new, temporary exemptions will be in effect until 30 days after the COVID-19 public health emergency is lifted. More information can be found on the SNAP benefits for students webpage and Q&A on student eligibility.

Because state SNAP agencies administer the SNAP program, process applications, and determine eligibility, students should contact their local SNAP offices to learn how to apply or to ask other questions. Institutions of higher education with questions about student SNAP eligibility, including the temporary expansion, should contact their state SNAP agency.

Contact information for state SNAP agencies and local offices can be found in the FNS SNAP state directory.