Pennsylvania: Expansion to SNAP for Qualifying College Students

The Pennsylvania Departments of Human Services (DHS) and Education (PDE) announced a temporary change in eligibility for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), expanding eligibility to certain college students who qualify based off their families’ income but normally would be ineligible for the program due to being a student.

Eligibility rules set by the federal government dictate that students ages 18 through 49 who are enrolled in college at least half time are not eligible for SNAP unless they meet certain exemptions, including working an average of 20 hours or more per week, participating in a state or federal work study program, having a disability, or being a parent of a child under age six. Even if students reside at home with parents who qualify for and receive SNAP, they are not counted in the household unless they meet one of the exemptions.

Under the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021, college students who are eligible for a state or federal work study program, regardless of whether they are actually participating, or students who have an estimated family contribution of $0 on their federal student aid determination are now eligible for SNAP. For those under the age of 22 and living at home with their parents, the parents’ incomes are still factored into determining if college students qualify for SNAP but at least for now, these students will receive a benefit more commensurate to their household size that they would otherwise not get because they are a student.

This eligibility will remain in place until 30 days after the public health emergency ends. Since the Biden Administration has advised that the declaration will most likely remain in place at least until the end of 2021 and states will have 60 days-notice before it ends, this policy change will more than likely be something that can help families for the remainder of the crisis.

A Government Accountability Office report released in January 2019 found that at least one in three college students do not always have enough to eat. Additionally, 71 percent of college students today do not fit the model of a “typical” college student and may be financially independent, work at least part time, enroll in and stay in college at a later age, or have dependent children. These factors, when paired with other challenges students face like cost of tuition, lodging and/or transportation, books, and supplies, can create significant barriers to making ends meet. The report includes a literature review of 31 studies of college hunger and indicated there was a range of 9-50 percent of students who experienced food insecurity on campuses but that in 22 of these studies, food insecurity was estimated to be above 30 percent of the students surveyed.

Apply for SNAP online with COMPASS. For more information about food assistance resources for people around Pennsylvania impacted by COVID-19 and the accompanying economic insecurity, visit the Department of Agriculture’s food security guide