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Gillibrand works to increase SNAP benefits for college students

Tom Magnarelli
WRVO News (file photo)

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) has introduced legislation that will make it easier for college students to receive benefits from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP.

During a news conference this week, Gillibrand said currently, in order for the students to receive the help, they have to be working 20 hours per week or participating in federal or state work-study.

"That means young people, many of whom grew up in families who relied on SNAP, and are now newly financially independent, are expected to balance a part-time job on top of their full-time academic career just so they don't get hungry,” said Gillibrand. “That has to change."

She said if students aren’t able to work, they’re often forced to make difficult decisions.

“Students who commute have to decide if they’re going to pay for a meal or the gas or the bus or the bus fare to get to class,” said Gillibrand. “Students who are parents prioritize feeding their children over getting their own meal in order to make their tuition payments.”

That’s why Gillibrand said she’s introducing the EATS Act, in an effort to expand eligibility to benefits to all college students at two or four-year universities who meet income requirements. Gillibrand said even before the COVID-19 pandemic, more than half of community college students and 41% of four-year college students in the SUNY system reported being hungry while enrolled in school.

Food insecurity was found to be especially common among students of color, low-income students, and first-generation college students, which she said creates a “vicious cycle.”

"Hunger and food insecurity have real implications for students' health as well as their academic performance,” said Gillibrand. “We know you can't focus, learn, or thrive if you're hungry."

Gillibrand said she already has several of her U.S. Senate colleagues on board and hopes to get the EATS Act passed as part of the Farm Bill, the budget, or a relief package later this year.

Jessica Cain is a freelance reporter for WRVO, covering issues around central New York. Most recently, Jessica was a package producer at Fox News in New York City, where she worked on major news events, including the 2016 presidential conventions and election. Prior to that, she worked as a reporter and anchor for multiple media outlets in central and northern New York. A Camillus native, Jessica enjoys exploring the outdoors with her daughters, going to the theater, playing the piano, and reading.