Cheez Whiz for dinner loses its allure about two weeks into off-campus living. If you can’t afford the upgrade to peanut butter and jelly, consider applying for food stamps. If you qualify, the government could give you up to $200 a month of free groceries.
Renamed the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program in 2008, the federal Food Stamp Program has been providing assistance to low-income families and individuals for more than 70 years.
Through SNAP, students are issued an Electronic Benefit Transfer card that can be used to purchase food, usually with a maximum allotment of $200 per month for an individual student.
“I appreciate that the EBT card looks like a debit card because it makes it lose some of the stigma,” says Alexis Sanchez, a Florida International University student who is currently using food stamps.
Sanchez lives in Chicago and is participating in City Year, a ten-month urban youth community service project, for her second time. While on City Year, students receive a limited stipend and are encouraged to apply for food stamps to ease the cost of living.
Before applying for food stamps, students can complete a prescreening test through the USDA website. By providing information about income and living expenses, including any lease and utility bills, a student can determine whether he or she is eligible.
While working at least 20 hours per week or participating in a federal work-study program will help eligibility odds, many students aren’t eligible if they live in university housing or use a meal plan.
Once the basic eligibility requirements are met, students are required to complete a detailed application and interview process. They must provide proof of education expenses and income such as loans, scholarships and employment earnings.
Although Sanchez has heard of “horror stories” from friends who had also gone through the application process, she has never had any difficulty with the application.
“I remember bringing all of the pertinent information including stubs, checking info, lease, bills with me,” she says. “I heard about people needing to make appointments, but I never do. I’ve been pretty fortunate.”