College hunger is a growing problem in the U.S with roughly 40% of students reporting food insecurity. Yet, fewer than 1 in 5 college students are eligible for nutrition assistance.
SNAP is our nation’s first line of defense against hunger, but unfortunately Congress decided decades ago to put up a bunch of extra hoops for students to jump through to be eligible. Public assistance programs like SNAP were set up when post-secondary education was a luxury, not a necessity.
This page is to help explain student eligibility rules.
But before you worry about the rules, let’s suss out whether you’re actually a student in the eyes of the government when it comes to SNAP.
Does the government consider you a student?
In order for the federal government to consider you a student in terms of SNAP policy, you have to be enrolled at an “institution of higher learning” for “half-time” or more. Each school defines half-time differently, but usually, it’s about 6 credits.
- If your school or training program doesn’t require a GED or high school diploma, it’s not an “institution of higher learning” so the following eligibility rules don’t apply to you. Feel free to apply for SNAP if you’re in need of help affording food. (You can learn more about SNAP income eligibility here.)
If you are enrolled at least half-time, you should know that the government still considers you a student while you are on break in between semesters and school years. For example, federal SNAP rules consider someone an enrolled student during summer vacation if they graduate in June and intend to start graduate school in the fall.
If you are a student under the above federal guidelines, the rules below apply to you and will determine your eligibility for SNAP. Please also see the Temporary SNAP Student Eligibility Rules below that will help more students qualify for SNAP during the pandemic.
First, some things to consider:
Do you have a meal plan?
Students who have a meal plan that covers more than half of their meals are not eligible for SNAP under any circumstances, even if you are meeting any of the eligibility provisions below.
Do you live at home with your parents?
If you haven’t hit your 22nd birthday yet and still live at home while attending school, you can’t apply for SNAP separately from your parents.
- If you are an eligible student under the age of 22, you will have to apply for SNAP with your whole family and have everyone’s income counted. You won’t be able to apply for SNAP on your own until you turn 22 or you move out.
- Unfortunately, if you are not eligible for SNAP under the student rules below, your family also won’t be able to receive nutrition assistance for you as a member of their household, even if they qualify for SNAP. The federal government simply doesn’t allow struggling parents to receive benefits to cover the food costs of any SNAP-ineligible college student living at home. (If you have any income, your income should not be counted in your parents’ SNAP eligibility determination.) The hardship this creates is another reason why we advocate for better SNAP rules for students (see What you can do below).
Student SNAP Eligibility Rules
1. Are you meeting the work requirement for students?
Federal rules require college students to also have paid employment to qualify for SNAP. These short-sighted rules fail to recognize that education is work, or how difficult it is for students to successfully complete coursework and focus on their future careers while also maintaining a job.
You are meeting the student work rules if you are juggling school and doing any of these:
- working 20 hours a week; or
- are self-employed (this includes Uber/Lyft/TaskRabbit) and making the same amount as someone working 20 hours a week at the federal minimum wage (currently $145 per week); or
- have a work-study award and anticipate taking a work-study position; or
- participating in an on-the-job training program that is not an unpaid internship, such as a nursing practicum or something along those lines.
2. Can you qualify another way?
If you’re not meeting the student work requirement you can still be eligible for SNAP if you are any of the following:
- a single parent enrolled full-time and have kids younger than 12;
- a parent in a two-parent household with kids under age 6, or if you have kids age 6 through 11 and can’t find child care;
- under age 18 or over age 49;
- a recipient of TANF/cash assistance benefits;
- going to school as part of a SNAP Employment and Training Program (KEYS); or
- diagnosed with a medical or mental health condition that makes you unable to work. This can be verified by receipt of a disability benefit, a statement from a doctor, or you can have your provider complete one of these forms.
3. Do you attend a community college?
Community college students can also be eligible for SNAP if they are in a Perkins IV program (usually a career or technical program) or in a course of study that is in a high priority occupation. A school administrator will be able to confirm if either of these is the case and should fill out one of these forms for you to send in with your SNAP documents.
Temporary SNAP eligibility expansions due to the pandemic
Starting January 16, 2021 and continuing until one month after the public health emergency declaration ends, students can also qualify under these two circumstances:
- You financially qualify for state or federal work-study. Even if you are not able to work a work-study position, you can still qualify for SNAP. If you qualify, you will see an awarded amount for work-study on your financial aid statement from your school.
- The Estimated Family Contribution (EFC) on your FAFSA is zero. If you are unsure what your EFC was, you can find this on your FAFSA student report or from your school’s financial aid office. If your family’s income has changed significantly since you submitted a FAFSA, contact your school about redetermining your EFC (this can also help you qualify for more student aid.)
If you think SNAP eligibility rules for students are arcane, backwards, and counterproductive, tell your members of Congress!
If you live in Allegheny County and need help applying for SNAP or help with your SNAP case, you can add your name and number on the form at the top of this page to be added to our call-back list.