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

- By Jeane Kuang and Mikhail Zinshteyn

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.

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