Eligible students aren’t applying for food assistance amid hunger spike

By Jason Flynn, Staff Reporter

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a surge in food insecurity nationwide and people are turning to government programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, to fill gaps in their budget. 

College students in southern Illinois are likely among the hardest hit by food security issues, as college students nationwide experienced much higher rates of food insecurity before the pandemic, and southern Illinois counties are the most food insecure in the state. 

“Eight of the nine counties that experience the most food insecurity are in southern Illinois, including Jackson County,” wrote Dawn Null, Assistant Professor of Human Nutrition & Dietetics at Southern Illinois University. “A study that Loran Morris, one of our nutrition graduate students conducted in 2015, assessed food insecurity among SIU students. She found 20.3% of our students had very low food security and 16.5% had low food security.”

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In Illinois the number of households that received SNAP benefits went from 887,753 households in February of 2020 up to 1,089,945 in October of the same year, a 22% increase, according to data from the Illinois Department of Human Services. 

Yet, many eligible people are not receiving benefits because they are unaware they are eligible, or are turned off by the complicated application process according to Teresa Schryver, the Advocacy Manager at the St. Louis Area Food Bank. 

“Forty-one percent of households [nationwide] who were served by pantries reported that they received SNAP, but it’s estimated about 88% of households that utilize food pantries would actually be eligible for SNAP,” Schryver said. 

Despite high rates of insecurity, students are even less likely to utilize food assistance programs because of a combination of cultural norms of a “starving college student,” federal work requirements, a lack of application assistance, and a lack of available time to go through the application process Schryver said. 

In order to qualify, students enrolled in a four year college half-time or more must meet one of the following stipulations: 

  • Are under 18-years-old or over 50-years-old;
  • Work an average of 20 hours per week;
  • Participate in a state or federal work study program;
  • Receive TANF cash assistance;
  • Are responsible for the care of a child between 6 and 12 years old and adequate child care is not available for school or work; or
  • Are single parents of a child (or children) under 12 and are enrolled in school full-time.

A study by Young Invincibles, a national student advocacy group, found that only 3% of college students nationwide receive SNAP benefits. 

For those seeking benefits, the St. Louis Area Food Bank provides assistance to people in the region who may be intimidated, or confused by the application process. 

“Melanie will be on the phone with someone, and she will be going through the application online with them, asking the questions right off of the application, helping them fill it out,” Schryver said. “And then she can help kind of navigate with them the process of if they need to get any additional information in.”

Staff reporter Jason Flynn can be reached at jflynn@dailyegyptian.com or on Twitter at @dejasonflynn. To stay up to date with all your southern Illinois news, follow the Daily Egyptian on Facebook and Twitter.

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