NEW JERSEY – Senator Anthony M. Bucco’s legislation that would ensure economically challenged college students who qualify for assistance from New Jersey’s Educational Opportunity Fund (EOF) could also get help buying groceries from the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) was advanced by the Senate health committee Thursday.
The SNAP program helps low-income individuals and families purchase healthy foods, but recipients are required to work a minimum of 20 hours each week to maintain benefits.
Bucco’s legislation (S-1749) would exempt undergraduates who qualify for financial assistance from EOF from the work requirements necessary for SNAP benefits.
“We want to prevent college students from being forced to choose between course work and 20+ hours at a parttime job. That is inconsistent with the EOF’s purpose of helping residents attend college,” said Bucco (R-25). “This bill protects students from employment requirements that result in many young people facing a choice between SNAP benefits and earning the grades they need to succeed in school and earn their degrees.”
Research shows that too many college students are coping with food insecurities every day. A survey of more than 150,000 students in 2019 found that “39% of students at two-or four-year schools had experienced food insecurity in the last 30 days,” and more than half those in a 2020 study reported they “sometimes used off-campus food banks.”
An article published by Drexel University’s Center for Hunger-Free Communities stated, “One study found that college students who experience food insecurity are half as likely to graduate as their peers who are food secure.”
“The most vulnerable are those from disadvantaged backgrounds. The absence of a nutritious diet while in college can have detrimental effects on students’ academic performance and general health,” Bucco said. “If they aren’t getting enough to eat, they can find it difficult to focus and are more likely to see their grades slip. Too many end up dropping out of school due to food insecurity.”
The Educational Opportunity Fund provides undergraduate students from both educationally and financially disadvantaged backgrounds with grants from $200 to $2,650 annually depending on the type of institution and level of need.
SNAP was established pursuant to federal law, and the program is subject to compliance with certain minimum federally established work requirements and eligibility criteria. Accordingly, the relaxation of work requirements for Educational Opportunity Fund award recipients would not take effect until the federal Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) authorizes a waiver of existing work requirements for the students identified in the bill.
Under S-1749, the Commissioner of Human Services would be required to apply to the FNS to secure federal approvals or waivers that may be necessary to implement and enforce the bill’s provisions, and act to ensure the State’s implementation of the bill is done in compliance with all applicable provisions of federal and State law and regulation.