The door to the Student Sustainability Center was open last Tuesday, as the group held its first SNAP Enroll-A-Thon of the term. The event aimed to help the campus community understand the enrollment process for the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, the federally-funded nutritional benefits program designed for low-income individuals. Tables were situated with computers, and trained staff waited nearby to assist with applications.
A recent Hope Center report revealed that over a third of UO students experience food insecurity.
“It’s important to create a space where it’s not weird to sign up for SNAP,” Food Security Program Coordinator Alice Morrison said. She took issue with student hunger being seen as a “rite of passage.”
“Hungry people just don’t learn,” she said.
One of the pamphlets handed out at the Enroll-A-Thon showcased bullet points towards eligibility, after the SNAP requirements changed in July. The process for undergraduate students now includes an interview with a Department of Human Services worker, according to the Partners for a Hunger-Free Oregon.
In the interview, “a student will need to share the reason they are going to school and how it is related to a job they want” after graduation. “For example,” the Partners for a Hunger-Free Oregon suggested, “if a student is studying social work, they should share that they want to be a social worker.”
“If a student meets this criteria,” informed the Partners for a Hunger-Free Oregon, “there are no mandatory work requirements for the student.”
“Though many more students in Oregon will qualify for SNAP under the new criteria,” said Partners for a Hunger-Free Oregon, “some may not” — including graduate students, since the new criteria is designed for undergraduate students.
According to the Food Security branch of the Erb Memorial Union, there are many routes towards qualifying: being a paid employee working 20 hours a week, receiving unemployment benefits, and those receiving Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or TANF, are all gateways to eligibility. Simply having been offered and accepting a federal work-study grant can be a qualifier.
Other criteria remain the same — if a one-person household makes less than $2,000 a month, they will qualify, according to charts provided by the EMU Food Security branch. A household of two would have to bring in less than $2,600 a month.
Out-of-state students are still eligible, Morrison informed. UO students should apply for SNAP with their Oregon address, she said — “Wherever you’re currently living, where you lay your head, is the address to put down.”
Graduate student Markus Koeneke was concerned that registering in Oregon may jeopardize his North Carolina voting registration. Morrison reassured that it would not interfere.
Koeneke never saw himself needing food assistance. “I’m fortunate to be paid a living wage,” he said, as part of the earth science department. Koeneke is a teaching assistant and came to the Enroll-A-Thon because he wanted to learn about what SNAP could offer students in his class.
“It’s a great program that can really help people,” he said.
It was graduate student Nadine Philip’s first time in the Student Sustainability Center. “I wish I’d known about it sooner,” Philip said, after attending the Enroll-A-Thon. “It makes sense that a public institution would help provide public benefits.”
Student Sustainability Center Program Director Taylor McHolm called the program “massively underutilized.” Students shouldn’t “self-select out,” he said. “If you’re eligible, you’re not taking away from others.”
McHolm pointed to the letter of acceptance that students receive: “it’s a promise that your life is going to be better.” Through that promise, he believed that “the university has to keep up their end of the bargain.” McHolm saw bimonthly produce drops and updated SNAP eligibility as ways that “provisions for students have expanded.”
Hungry students taking advantage of SNAP will be a game-changer, Morrison said. “You will be a better student. And that’s what we’re here for — to be students.”
The Student Sustainability Center plans to hold an Enroll-A-Thon each term. Duck Nest provides drop-in hours to help students with the SNAP application.