The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) provides food benefits to low-income individuals and families in the United States. For college students in California who are struggling to afford necessities such as food, SNAP benefits can be a vital lifeline. SNAP is a federally funded program, and California has its own program similar to SNAP: CalFresh. Both programs are relatively similar, with the difference being in eligibility requirements. CalFresh includes benefits for immigrants and college students and focuses on helping people living in the state. According to the California Student Aid Commission, only about 127,000 college students utilize CalFresh, when up to 700,000 are eligible.
Many college students face financial challenges that make it difficult to afford necessities such as healthy foods. This is particularly true for low-income students, who may not have access to financial support from family members or other sources. According to a California Student Aid Commission report, nearly half of California college students struggle with food insecurity. For these students, SNAP and CalFresh benefits are crucial to help them access the nutrition they need to stay healthy and focused on why they are in college: to become more educated and earn a degree.
Another reason why SNAP and CalFresh are so important is that they help reduce the financial burden that college students face, particularly those working to support themselves while attending school. Many college students in California work part-time or full-time jobs to pay for tuition, rent, and other living expenses. However, even with a job, it can be challenging to make ends meet, especially with inflation and constant interest rate hikes. SNAP benefits can supplement a student's income, providing them with additional resources to cover food costs. This will hopefully reduce stress and anxiety, allowing students to focus on their academic work.
A lack of access to healthy food can harm people's physical and mental health. Studies have shown that food insecurity increases the risk of chronic health conditions such as obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. Food insecurity and a lack of nutrients can also lead to mental health issues such as depression and anxiety. SNAP and CalFresh benefits help ensure that low-income college students have access to the nutritious food they need to stay healthy and thrive at school.
We can't cover governmental food assistance without addressing equity issues in higher education settings. Low-income students are more likely to drop out of college due to financial challenges. This is often referred to as the "college affordability crisis." By providing SNAP benefits, the government can help address this crisis, ensuring that low-income students have the resources to stay in school and complete their degrees. This can positively impact their future job prospects and earning potential, as well as the overall economy. The more people employed and working, the more our economy can stay afloat and thrive. When more people live up to their full potential, we all benefit.
SNAP benefits can also help to address systemic inequalities in our society. As previously stated, low-income individuals and families, including college students, are more likely to experience food insecurity and poverty. This is often due to systemic issues such as racism, discrimination, and economic inequality. SNAP and CalFresh benefits hopefully provide a safety net for the most vulnerable in our society.
SNAP and CalFresh are critically important for college students in California. These programs can help address financial hardship, food insecurity, health outcomes, equity issues in higher education, and systemic inequalities in our society. We must continue to support and expand programs like these to ensure that all college students have access to the resources they need to succeed.
This copy was prepared by Allison Norberg, a volunteer at Student Lunch Box, a non-profit organization dedicated to fighting food insecurity among college students.