COLUMBUS, Ohio — Hunger is an unfortunate reality for many Ohio college students, but there are new opportunities to help connect more students to food assistance.
The USDA is allowing new flexibility so low-income "traditional" students temporarily can qualify for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).
Betsy Suver, bureau chief of SNAP, cash policy and technical assistance for the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services, explained two changes, the first of which involves eligibility for work-study students.
"It used to say 'participating in a work study,' but now all they have to do is be eligible to participate in a work study," Suver outlined. "And the second one is completely new; and this is students with an expected family contribution or EFC of zero."
That means eligible students must have filled out a zero EFC on their financial-aid application.
A survey conducted at the start of the pandemic found 44% of students at two-year colleges and 38% of students at four-year colleges were food insecure.
The changes were part of the CARES Act passed in December.
Suver noted the maximum SNAP benefit also was boosted by 15% during the pandemic.
"So even if someone would normally just qualify for $100, they will get the $234 while we're eligible for what are called emergency allotments," Suver observed.
Food insecurity is more prevalent among non-traditional students; those age 25 and older and those who are parents.
Randy Gardener, Chancellor for the Ohio Department of Higher Education, said campuses need to ensure the academic success and wellness of the "whole student" is supported.
"Higher education must be about supporting and respecting the whole student. You've got health-care challenges, you've got unemployment issues and trying to maintain a semblance of education during this difficult time just means we have to do everything we can," Gardener stressed. "We have to do as much as possible."
The Ohio Department of Job and Family Services and The Ohio Department of Higher Education are working with The Center for Community Solutions and the Ohio Association of Foodbanks to help colleges and universities raise awareness about the new opportunities for food assistance.