FNS Denies Requests to Waive Food Stamp Eligibility Requirements for College Students

April 21, 2020 Updated: April 21, 2020

The Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) has denied dozens of states’ requests to waive food stamp eligibility requirements for college students.

In order to qualify for food stamps, which is formally known as Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), college students must first meet income and asset limits, household qualifications, and immigration status requirements. Students attending college less than half-time can then qualify under standard SNAP rules.

College students enrolled more than half-time may still be able to get SNAP benefits if they meet one of a number of criteria, including taking care of a dependent child younger than 6, working at least 20 hours a week in paid employment, and participating in a state or federally funded work-study program.

food stamps
A sign in a market window advertises the acceptance of food stamps in New York City on Oct. 7, 2010. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

At least 30 states had submitted requests to the FNS to waive the student eligibility criteria for SNAP since March 13, when President Donald Trump declared a national emergency to help curb the spread of CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus throughout the country. State officials claimed that federal approval of the waiver would help college students in those states continue to be fed and lessen their economic burdens as unemployment claims surge.

In an April 10 statement, the FNS said that although the agency recognizes the states’ efforts to ensure their residents have access to food during this difficult time, it would not waive the student SNAP requirements. It is unclear how many students are affected by the decision.

The FNS noted that the waiver requests failed to meet the requirements for approval provided under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. The statement didn’t explain in detail how those requests failed to comply with the Act.

Signed into law by Trump on March 18, the Act authorizes the Agriculture Department to decide whether to let states modify procedures to make it easier for families to continue receiving SNAP benefits. It also temporarily suspends SNAP’s three-month time limit on benefits for unemployed adults under age 50 without children in their home.

According to the statement, the FNS has so far approved nearly 500 individual state waivers and processed more than 900 requests from states into granted flexibilities.

“FNS continues to provide technical assistance to state agencies as they seek to maintain operations and serve applicants and participants during the current Public Health Emergency,” the food service agency said in the statement. “FNS regional offices continue to be available to help states evaluate available flexibilities and evolving best practices during this time.”