Many low-income college students may be eligible for SNAP benefits but not realize it. The college student rules can be very confusing.
Eligible college students
If you are a low-income college student enrolled half-time or more, you may qualify for SNAP – on your own or part of your parent’s household – as long as you meet any one of the following conditions:
- you are younger than 18 or older than 49;
- you receive either federal or state work-study during the school year (for any amount of work-study hours);
- you work for pay for 20 hours or more per week;
- you have a child under age 6;
- you have a child under age 12 and you are a single parent in school full time or you are a parent and do not have enough child care coverage to both attend school full time and work 20 hours;
- you receive TAFDC cash benefits as a pregnant woman or for dependent children;
- you are disabled and receive disability-based benefits such as SSI, MassHealth as disabled or EAEDC, or your health care provider (nurse, doctor, psychologist, counselor, or social worker) signs a statement that you cannot work short term or longer because you are in a vocational, mental health or substance abuse rehabilitation program;
- you are going to school under a DTA-approved SNAP education or training activity or another government-sponsored education and training program; or
- you are attending a community college and pursuing a degree or certificate program that is in a career or technical education field or similar program that the college determines will increase your employability.
106 C.M.R. §§ 362.400-362.420 lists all the conditions that qualify college students. Appendix C: Important Advocacy Forms includes an FAQ and a form for community colleges to sign if you are in a career or technical education degree or certificate program, or if your course of study will lead to employment.
Example 1: Jane is a single parent and a full-time college student with one child age 10. Jane qualifies for SNAP, even though a student, because she is a single parent with a child under age 12.
Example 2: George is a full-time college student with no dependents. He has a work-study job on campus for 5 hours a week. George meets the SNAP rules for college students because he is doing work-study. He does not need to work 20 hours per week.
Example 3: Suzy is majoring in communications at the local community college. Because she is in a public college and in a program that is expected to lead to employment, according to the college, she meets the student eligibility requirements.
Note: College students enrolled less than half-time do not need to meet the conditions above to get SNAP benefits. 106 C.M.R. § 362.400(A). Depending on your situation, however, you may be required to do work search unless you meet the employment and training exceptions. See Who must register for work and do job search, and who's exempt?
Purchase and prepare rules for college students
If you live on campus and get most of your meals through your meal plan, you do not qualify for SNAP.
If you live with your parents and you are under age 22, you must be part of their SNAP household even if you meet the student eligibility rules, and even if you purchase and prepare food separately. See Who cannot be a separate SNAP household?
Treatment of college student loans and grants
There are specific rules on what income is countable for eligible college students. It is important to remember the following:
- Federal loans, grants and work-study are “excluded” or non-countable income for SNAP purposes. 106 C.M.R. § 363.230(D). This includes Pell Grants, FSEOG, federal college work study, Perkins Loans and other student financial aid from programs administered under Title IV of the federal Higher Education Act.
- Private and state grants, private loans and state work-study monies do count—but only the amount that is designated for your living expenses counts in calculating SNAP benefits (e.g., the amount that the loan exceeds your tuition, fees, books, supplies, child care and other earmarked educational expenses). 106 C.M.R. § 363.230(D)(4).
- If you do have countable income from loans or grants, DTA will average the amount of available income monthly over the course of the academic year or semester even if you receive it in a lump sum. 106 C.M.R. § 364.340(A)(2).
For more information on the income counting rules and what is countable or non-countable, see Questions What income is not counted? through How does DTA count the income of someone who lives with me but is not part of my SNAP household? Non-countable income does not need to be verified. To help verify your countable school income, DTA uses an "Educational Income and Expense Form" (EDUC-1). By signing this form, you are giving permission for your college financial aid office to release information to DTA. Use of the form also makes it easier for the financial aid office to report non-federal financial aid you receive and indicate if any of it is designated for your living expenses. You are not required to use this form but it may help in getting the exact information DTA needs.
- In June 2010, DTA issued guidance which expands the SNAP eligibility for low-income students attending community colleges. These students are SNAP eligible if enrolled in career or technical education degree or certificate programs, or enrolled in other programs that the college determines likely to enhance the student’s employability. This policy change is especially important for public college students who cannot get work study or meet the other student exemptions to qualify. Appendix C: Important Advocacy Forms includes the DTA form for community colleges to sign, and an FAQ.
Additional Policy Guidance on College Students
- Job Aid for workers “Everything you need to know about student eligibility for SNAP,” Transitions Training Corner (Sept 2012).
- DTA guidance extending SNAP eligibility to community college students enrolled in career and technical education programs (defined under the Perkins Act) or in degree or certificate programs likely to lead to employment. Field Operations (F.O.) Memo 2010-28 (June 1, 2010) and Transitions Hotline Q&A (July 2010), updated CCE-1 form issued, Transitions FYI pg 12 (January 2012).
- Guidance on eligibility of college students living with others; ineligible college student are non-household members and their income does not count in determining eligibility of SNAP household. Transitions Hotline Q&A (July 2009).
- Work hours of employed students should be averaged over the month to get a weekly average (for students eligible claiming 20 hours/week average work). F.O. Memo 2007-44 (Aug. 30, 2007).
- Federal work-study is never countable income even though receipt meets student requirements. Transitions FYI (Dec. 2006).
- Once student turns 22, he/she can be own SNAP household even if living with parents (if purchases and prepares separately); participation in school meal plan does not disqualify student if meal plan does not provide majority of meals. Only one parent in a two-parent household can claim responsibility to care for a young child to meet student rules. Transitions Hotline Q&A (Nov. 2006).
- Non-federal education loans and grants designated for living expenses are countable income; guidance includes EDUC-1 form and instructions. F.O. Memo 2004-9 (March 15, 2004).
Produced by Patricia Baker, Deborah Harris, Laura Gallant, Rochelle Hahn and Victoria Negus, Massachusetts Law Reform Institute Last updated January 2013