Via LSC Blog
Kate Strickland and Rachel Schwarz, Harvard Law students in LSC’s Safety Net Project, submitted testimony last week on two bills under consideration by the Massachusetts Legislature that would provide support to college students who are eligible for nutrition assistance through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) but who may be unaware of the program, or need help in applying for it and other public benefits for which they are eligible.
S.822 and H.1368 Bills are pending bills in the Massachusetts that would create an Office of Capacity Building Services at the Massachusetts Department of Higher Education to provide funding and support to college and university campuses aiming to address food insecurity among students. The bills also incentivize campuses to help students enroll in existing resources, like SNAP, and create anti-hunger initiatives on campus, like student meal-sharing programs and emergency funds for students to address basic needs.
Testimony to the Massachusetts House of Representatives and Senate in Support of Bill H.1368, An Act Establishing the Massachusetts Hunger-Free Campus Initiative, and Bill S.822, An Act Relative to Establishing and Implementing a Food and Health Pilot Program
Our names are Kate Strickland and Rachel Schwarz. We are students at Harvard Law School, and we are writing in support of the passage of H.1368 and S.822 informed by our experiences as clinical students at the Legal Services Center of Harvard Law School.
We are part of the Safety Net Project, a program of the Veterans Law and Disability Benefits Clinic at the Legal Services Center. Our clinic assists and represents indigent clients, including veterans, in matters relating to public benefits, including applications and denials for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits.
As you are undoubtedly aware, college students are increasingly facing food insecurity, especially since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. According to a report produced by The Hope Center, more than one in three public university students in Massachusetts are food insecure. College students are increasingly diverse in terms of age, parental status, and marital status. Older students are more likely to face food insecurity, though the percentages are high across all ages. In addition, The Hope Center found that only around 20% of these food insecure students in Massachusetts are currently utilizing SNAP benefits. The US Governmental Accountability Office estimated in 2020 that 57% of low-income, at-risk students who potentially qualify for SNAP are not receiving benefits.
Advocates and law students at the Legal Services Center have recognized this significant problem and have partnered with the Boston Public Library to bring educational programs to the community on SNAP eligibility and application processes. Our program, Food Access in a SNAP, is new, and we have conducted three Zoom presentations to date, reaching over fifty individuals. These individuals have included community partners, such as college administrators, and individuals trying to assess their own SNAP eligibility, including college students. We also provide individual consultations, recognizing the complexity and unanswered questions that many potential SNAP applicants face. Despite our best efforts, our reach is limited and highly dependent on access to technology – which is especially concerning when reaching low-income communities. Students would be much better served by readily accessible employees at their own colleges and universities, who can provide SNAP eligibility information and assist students in applying for benefits.
In addition, the complexity of applying for SNAP benefits is overwhelming to most college students, who are already focused on their studies and other commitments. College students must meet one of five exceptions in order to apply for SNAP. These unique requirements would be best understood by a task force and university employees who are trained in them, rather than by legal aid offices catering to a wide variety of populations. In addition, SNAP often changes; for example, two temporary COVID-related measures have expanded SNAP eligibility. This is a welcome development, but also indicates the necessity of a school-based task force that can stay aware of changing requirements and alert students to expanded eligibility.
Bills H.1368 and S.822 are sorely needed to bridge the gap between students and the benefits for which they are eligible. Providing funding and resources to colleges and universities is essential to connecting students with SNAP benefits and to helping address the food insecurity crisis. In addition, creating task forces that have the training and expertise to help students navigate SNAP and other safety-net programs is necessary in order for these programs to achieve their full benefit. These bills will help Massachusetts college students meet their basic food needs, allowing them to focus on their studies and goals.
 The Hope Center, 2019 #RealCollege Survey Report, (June 2020)
 29% of students age 18-20 reported food insecurity, 43% aged 21-25, 48% aged 26-30, and 44% older than 30. The Hope Center, 2019 #RealCollege Survey Report, p 10, (June 2020)
 The Hope Center, 2019 #RealCollege Survey Report, p 5, (June 2020)
 US Governmental Accountability Office, Food Insecurity Report: Better Information Could Help Eligible College Students Access Federal Food Assistance Benefits (December 2018)
 Legal Services Center Website, SNAP Series, https://www.legalservicescenter.org/snap-series/
 The Consolidated Appropriations Act temporarily expanded student eligibility to new groups from January 16, 2021 through the end of the public health emergency. https://www.fns.usda.gov/snap/students, (2021)