Did you hear about the college students who can’t afford to eat? No, really…

By Dennis Archambault

When someone familiar with food insecurity encounters a middle-class colleague with the comment, “Did you know that there are college students living in their cars?”, the answer may be, “Really??” And if you ask a second question, “Did you know that one out of every three college students experiences food insecurity?” You may get a similar response. “Really??”

Really. And that was before the pandemic hit, according research conducted in 2019 and published last year. Today’s announcement of aid to this population is timely. The Michigan Departments of Labor and Economic Opportunity and Health and Human Services collaborated on a program to serve 16,000 low income college students enrolled in career and technical education programs. They are eligible for federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) funds through Michigan.gov/MIBridges.

Previously, college students enrolled in qualifying programs who attended school at least half time couldn’t qualify for SNAP benefits, even if they met income eligibility requirements, unless they fell into certain categories such as working at least 20 hours per week, caring for a child, or being unable to work. However, many students lost their jobs during the pandemic, making them ineligible for SNAP benefits.

Qualified candidates for this program must be enrolled in Michigan colleges and are enrolled at least half-time in an occupational program that leads to employment under the “Perkins V” program, known also as the Perkins Postsecondary Career and Technical Education Program.

When critics of complex legislation like the American Rescue Plan cynically point to its length and multiple programs, and, of course, its cost, they fail to appreciate the many faces of poverty that are not seen through selective media and focused lifestyles. But as any reasonable person would conclude, you can’t study when you’re hungry and homeless. How is that equality, much less equity?

Dennis Archambault is vice president of Public Affairs for Authority Health.