Starving College Student

5 June 2013

blog

Bag of groceriesBy Danielle Rodgers, Membership and Outreach Intern

My recent excursion into the food stamp system has left me scratching my head. Prior to writing and researching this project I knew barley anything about food stamps, and the means to enroll into the program. I have known many people who were on food stamps, but what sparked my interest was not the fact that the middle and poor class were signing up for food stamps, but college students as well. My immediate thought was, “I wonder if I qualify for food stamps?” and “What is the process of applying for food stamps?” So my journey began as a college student applying for financial help to acquire food stamps.

“I’m poor and I don’t have food,” has been the key phase from many of my college friends and classmates over the past couple of months. The struggle of being a college student is hard, and it’s even harder as a recent graduate. The increasing fee hikes for students is directly affecting their personal life. The average school food plan for students is roughly $1200 per month; so what are college students suppose to do when they are strapped for money?

Food stamps known as SNAP, which stands for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), provides financial assistance for purchasing food to low-income people living in the United States. It is a federal aid program, administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). SNAP distributes cash aid for food through a system similar to a debit card, which is called an EBT card, which looks and acts like a debt card, but instead of withdrawing money from your account the government prepays an amount of money for food for that individual person.

Food stamps, once associated with the poor is now commonly used among college students. Some college students work two or three part-time jobs to cover living expenses and some of their tuition. They are applying for more student loans, sharing rooms, cutting corners by renting textbooks and often forgoing not buying textbooks, and applying for food stamps. Food stamps were once frowned upon as it meant that your family was poor, lazy, and trying to beat the system, but now college students are forced to take advantage of the program.

Day one started at a place that no one really wants to visit, the Department of Human Services, where I was informed to pick up an application and return it back to the receptionist. The application was straight to the point: name, address, income, etc. After taking ten minutes to finish the application, I return my application and was scheduled to see a social worker the next day. The next day I waited and waited for my number to be called to talk to a social worker, and it never happened. It was 5:30pm and I been waiting three hours to talk to someone. I was later informed by the receptionist that the person who scheduled my interview gave me the wrong appointment time. Instead of 3:30pm, the receptionist made it for 9:30am. Irritated, frustrated, and annoyed I ended up storming out of the Department of Human Services, flabbergasted at their lack of service.New SNAP Image

A couple days went by before I decided to continue my research. My travels took me once again to the Department of Human Services, but I ended up going to a different location. Walking into the Department of Human Services for the second time, I felt nervous and unaware of what to do. I received my application, waited for my number to be called, and was informed to return the next day for orientation at 9:00am. Orientation started exactly at 9:00am, where I met with the social worker, I gave her all of my supplementary items: class enrollment, class schedule, social security number, California ID, and pay stubs. And like that, I was out within 20 minutes. This go-around was much easier and faster. It didn’t take long for the case worker to call me and inform that she will be working on my case to determine if  I qualify for food stamps.

A few days passed and I received a letter indicating that I didn’t qualify for emergency food stamps. I was automatically pre-registered for emergency food stamps. Anyone who applies for food stamps is automatically placed on a list for emergency food stamps. If the supplementary items provided to the social worker doesn’t fall under the Department of Human Services emergency food stamp eligibility requirements, then you can not receive them. Processing my case to determine how much money I would receive for food stamps was affected by my work hours. My social worker indicated to me that because my hours changed each week, I am not able to be on food stamps. Shocked and surprised that I didn’t qualify; I asked my social worker the reason why I didn’t qualify. I was informed that because I work less than 20 hours a week I  fail to meet the requirement. I was notified that if you’re in college you have to work 20 hours a week to be able to be on food stamps. Surprised by her response I thought to myself, “what about college students who do have a job, but work less than 20 hours a week?” Or “the ones who don’t have a job, who need extra help?” It is sad to see that people who don’t qualify are the ones who need help. Because of the rules and these stipulations many college students are forced to reapply or just give up.

My journey took me to a place where many people shy away from because there is a stigmatism against needing food stamps. It is not easy to ask for help, but when you are unable to buy food to live on, you have to set your pride aside and ask for help.  College is hard and it is not as easy as many people think. The rising fees and the lack of employment have caused many college students to seek financial help. As my own college years come to an end, I wonder for those who are still in school how they will make it through college.

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CFJC promotes the basic human right to healthy food while advancing social, agricultural, environmental and economic justice. Through advocacy, organizing and education, we collaborate with community-based efforts to create a sustainable food supply. We envision a food system in which all activities, from farm to table, are equitable, healthful, regenerative and community-driven.

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