Senators Warnock, Warren, Sanders, Padilla, Murphy, Lawson, Hayes, Torres, Colleagues Urge USDA to Issue Clearer Guidance that Informs Students of Their SNAP Benefits

70% of Black and 70% of American Indian or Alaska Native Students Experienced Food Insecurity, Housing Insecurity, or Homelessness

Washington, D.C. — United States Senators Reverend Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Alex Padilla (D-Calif.), and Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), and Representatives Al Lawson (D-Fla.), Jahana Hayes (D-Conn.), and Norma J. Torres (D-Calif.), along with Senators Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Bob Casey (D-Pa.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Mark Warner (D-Va.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), led a letter to U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Thomas Vilsack, urging him to issue guidance clarifying college students’ eligibility for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits to address the growing food insecurity crisis among college students.

“College students represent the future of America. Not only is it critical that we don’t saddle students with debt, but the Administration should also use its executive authority to ensure low-income students have the information they need to access SNAP and other federal benefits to help them stay focused and successful in their studies,” the senators wrote. “USDA has the authority to change that.”

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, a GAO report found that thousands of low-income students who should qualify for SNAP never accessed these benefits, in large part because of the complexity of SNAP eligibility rules. The GAO report also concluded that college students experiencing hunger have a harder time succeeding in school and found that nearly two million students at risk of going hungry were potentially eligible for SNAP but did not report receiving benefits in 2016.

The COVID-19 pandemic, however, has worsened food insecurity among college students and exacerbated racial disparities in hunger. A nationwide survey of students in fall 2020 by the Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice found that 70% of Black and 70% of American Indian or Alaska Native students experienced food insecurity, housing insecurity, or homelessness—rates substantially higher than their white peers.

The senators specifically call on USDA to issue guidance to clarify that the following groups are eligible for SNAP benefits without work requirements: low-income students who have been approved for federal or state work study; low-income students enrolled in community college and in four-year college programs that are career-focused or in paths resulting in high employability after graduation; and low-income students with disabilities, including students with learning disabilities and serious medical conditions.

“While we work on securing legislation to both make permanent and expand the [Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act] student provisions, we strongly urge USDA to use its authority to expeditiously issue guidance that clarifies the student SNAP eligibility rules, which would expand on the Biden Administration’s actions to ensure students have access to federal nutrition resources to meet their basic needs,” the senators concluded.

This letter is part of Senator Warren’s ongoing efforts to help address the existing and worsened inequities facing our students.

  • Last year in June 2021, Senators Warren and Padilla, along with U.S. Representative Torres, introduced theBasic Assistance for Students in College (BASIC) Act, bicameral legislation to ensure college students are able to meet their basic needs while pursuing their education.
  • In May 2021, Senators Warren, Chris Murphy, Padilla, Sanders, and Representatives Hayes, Lawson, and Torres introduced the Student Food Security Act of 2021, bicameral legislation to address food insecurity on college campuses by enabling more low-income college students to access SNAP and pushing the federal government, states, and colleges and universities to take a more proactive role in addressing student food insecurity.
  • In February 2021, Senator Warren joined Senators Durbin, Duckworth, and eight of their senate colleagues in introducing a bill to address hunger needs during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond by requiring the USDA to expand online SNAP purchasing choices.

Text of Letter (PDF)