The Mercury News
Colleges rush to get more students on federal food assistance
Pandemic rule allowing more applicants to qualify scheduled to end in June
Students, add this to the todo list between now and finals week: Apply for federal food assistance before the fast-approaching end of a rule that allows more folks to qualify.
Starting June 10, students whose families could not contribute a dollar to their education or who are approved for federal or state work-study programs no longer will be automatically eligible for CalFresh, the program formerly known as food stamps. Instead, students will have to seek those benefits through a stricter set of eligibility rules that limit how many low-income people enrolled in college can receive food aid.
The imminent deadline — the result of a federal health order sunsetting — is putting pressure on California campus officials, both public and private, and state agencies to inform students these benefits are ending soon.
Everyone — advocates, researchers, college social service coordinators and county officials — says the time is now for students to apply. Seeking the aid before the rules tighten again could buy a previously ineligible student as much as a year of time on food assistance, they say. A qualifying student could get up to $281 a month to pay for groceries.
Beyond a matter of basic necessity, ensuring students aren't hungry has clear academic benefits, including higher college graduation rates, studies have shown.
“There is a scramble right now,” said Brandi Simonaro of Cal State Chico's Center for Healthy Communities, which has a state contract to help students apply for food assistance on 48 mostly public college campuses statewide.
Part of the challenge, she said, is misinformation among campus officials about CalFresh's complex and changing eligibility rules; she fears the confusion will discourage students from applying.