TRENTON, N.J. – Financially-strapped New Jersey college students receiving Educational Opportunity Fund awards should not have to worry about how they are going to afford their next meal, says Assemblywoman Aura Dunn. Her bill calling on the federal government to relax the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program’s 20-hour work requirements for EOF students was passed by the full Assembly on Monday.
“Thirty-six percent of students know someone who has dropped out due to food insecurity during the pandemic. This bill supports students and builds on our efforts to fight hunger on college campuses,” Dunn (R-Morris) said.
Since SNAP was established pursuant to federal law, Dunn’s bill (A4168) requires the N.J. Department of Human Services to apply to the federal Food and Nutrition Service to approve a waiver that would relax SNAP’s work requirements for EOF award recipients. After federal approval, New Jersey would launch a public awareness campaign about the new SNAP eligibility criteria.
“We know that almost half of community college students have reported being food insecure at some point during their enrollment. While many colleges have responded by creating food banks and some even offering emergency grants, expanding SNAP eligibility would help significantly and may make the difference for some students in whether or not they can remain enrolled and persist to graduation,” said Hudson County Community College’s Secaucus Center and Early College Programs Executive Director Christopher Conzen.
Undergraduate EOF awards range from $200 to $2,650 annually depending on the type of institution and financial need. Forty-two of New Jersey’s colleges and universities participate in the fund and oversee program participation, recruitment and admission.
“Economically disadvantaged and often first-generation college students in the EOF program are really hurting from increased food costs and rising tuition rates,” Dunn added. “Many of us have to save and scrimp to be able to go to college, but forgoing food is a sacrifice no one should have to make.”
Laura O’Reilly-Stanzilis, executive director of The North Jersey Health Collaborative, stressed the importance of policies that recognize the connection between access to good nutrition and health outcomes later in life.
“The Covid-19 pandemic has displayed health inequities in communities, and economic burdens associated with the pandemic are making it increasingly more difficult for some individuals to have regular access to healthy food,” she said. “In order to improve future health outcomes, we must take actions to strengthen policies and improve practices to ensure that children and young adults have access to nutrition assistance.”
Currently, students, ages 18 to 49, attending an institution of higher education more than half-time are eligible for SNAP if they meet income and asset eligibility standards, and at least one of a number of other conditions like working at least 20 hours a week, caring for a child under 6 years old or participating in an on-the-job training program.