Expanding access to government-funded food programs appears to be on the fast track after Maryland leaders gathered last week to discuss that and other policy recommendations for helping more young people get to college and succeed.
The Credentialed by 26 State Policy Roundtable – which convened more than 30 leaders from state agencies, local governments and higher education, as well as students – showed the impact of bringing together stakeholders and arming them with new information to produce solutions. The event was part of the Forum for Youth Investment's Credentialed by 26 project, which among other things scans state policies and recommends changes that will improve post-secondary achievement.
State leaders vowed to act on several of the 17 recommendations, most notably broadening the eligibility of the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) – commonly called “food stamps” – to include more college students, and allowing SNAP to be used for on-campus meals and meal plans.
“Adequate nutrition for students and their families is often a major factor affecting the persistence of low-income and other vulnerable college students,” the recommendations said. But many of those students are locked out of SNAP because they don’t meet requirements like working at least 20 hours a week or being the single parent of a child under 12. Students who recently aged out of foster care are also ineligible.
“These eligibility requirements create a perverse incentive to work more hours, which, in turn, often derails students from completing their course of study,” the recommendations say.
That seems about to change.
“We will try to get that done very quickly,” said Rosemary King Johnston, executive director of the Governor's Office for Children and one of the roundtable participants. “It’s doable, and it doesn’t cost the state any money” because SNAP is federally funded.
States can make that change, the Forum recommendations said, because in 2010 the U.S. Department of Agriculture (which oversees SNAP) gave states “the flexibility to expand eligibility to include students who are in educational programs that will lead directly to employment” in certain fields. Only Massachusetts has adopted that expanded eligibility.
Other recommendations included expediting “last dollar” funds or emergency grants (typically of a few hundred dollars) to get students through financial emergencies, and engaging students “in meaningful conversations about policy change at every level.”
That last item was carried out at the roundtable, which featured a half-dozen students. Johnston called that one of the most valuable parts of the project.
“All of them had fabulous ideas about what they needed to be ready by 21 and credentialed by 26,” she said. “It was really very enlightening.”
Also valuable, Johnston said, was the participation of several mental health advocates, who noted impediments to education and credentialing access that can be addressed through changes in policies or regulations.
The bottom line for participants: The project compelled them to take action on several items and issues that were under consideration. “It connected to so many of the things that are already going on,” Johnston said. “It gave us that next step.”
For another example of how the Credentialed by 26 state policy initiative works, see this report about Florida.
For more information about the project, contact Forum Policy Director Elizabeth Gaines at 202-207-3714, firstname.lastname@example.org.