College Students Struggle for Sustenance
Some days, Kimberly Amante sits in the Lang cafeteria hoping one of the student groups will give away food in exchange for filling out a survey.
Lang junior Amante, an arts in context major, has been enrolled in the federally-run Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program for the past four years and receives $200 each month in food stamps. When delivery of her food stamps is delayed, she is left with no money to purchase meals since she is not living on campus or receiving a meal plan.
“Just because students are blessed with the privilege to attend college doesn’t mean they are blessed with the funds for it,” Amante said.
Amante is by no means alone in relying on the government program for her meals. The mayor’s office revealed last September that the number of New Yorkers receiving food stamps had more than doubled since 2001. The NYC Food bank, a non-profit organization that provides research and nutritional information in addition to distributing food to the needy, reported that 39 percent of New York City residents with some college education were concerned about needing food assistance in 2010.
However, Astrid Spota, a research associate for the Food Bank, could not verify exactly how many college students rely on the program.”Unfortunately, there are no statistics that measure college students enrolled in food stamps,” said Spota, in an e-mail. “Neither the Food Bank, nor any government department, looks exclusively at that population.”
The subject was raised earlier this year at The New School in an event held in April entitled “Food Security: Hunger, Justice, and Eating on a Food Stamp Budget.” The event began with a screening of “Food Stamped,” a film that documents a week in the life of a couple attempting to live on food stamps. The screening was followed by a panel discussion led by four New School students who shared their experiences of living on a food stamp budget for one week.
“It can be a struggle for students, when you’re in college, to balance your finances and have enough money to pay for everything,” said Rachel Knopf, health educator at The New School. “What we know, nationally, is that food is often what we would call the most ‘elastic’ part of a person’s budget. You can’t pay less than rent, you can’t pay less than tuition, but food is the one thing where you can say, ‘Okay, maybe it’ll just be ramen this month.’”
Yet in light of the economic downturn, Supplemental Nutrition has come under increased scrutiny. Some states have taken legislative measures against the program, targeting loopholes that benefit college students.
In August, Michigan ejected roughly 30,000 college students from Supplemental Nutrition Assistance, saving the economically troubled state $75 million a year. The majority of students cast out had used an exception, which made previously-unqualified people eligible for food stamps if they participated in an “employment and training program.” Such programs included attending a college or university.
Unlike Michigan, New York State regulations do not provide such loopholes for students. To meet eligibility requirements for food stamps, college students living in New York not only must be enrolled in school at least half-time and earn less than $1,107 each month, but must also either work a minimum of 20 hours a week, have a young child under their care, or be part of a government “work-study” program.
Despite government and taxpayer concerns over who should or should not be entitled to food stamps, Amante maintained that college students who are in great need should be given assistance.
“Unfortunately for me, my one and only parent passed away right before I got accepted into college,” Amante said. “I think it’s assumed that parents are allotting money for books and food, and it’s simply not true.”