For Schools

COVID-19’s Impact On Federal Work-Study and SNAP

ScholarNet Blog Articles | November 17, 2020

COVID-19 has impacted Federal Work-Study programs, jobs, and – as a result – SNAP eligibility that impacts the welfare of some students.

According to a 2020 National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators report, more than 560,000 students rely on a Federal Work-Study (FWS) stipend to help pay for college. With the shift to virtual learning, budget constraints, and safety concerns, many students have had fewer hours – or no job available – under the program this semester.

A Shift in Federal Aid

With an average FWS stipend of $1,900 for the 2017-18 academic year, this is money many students rely on to pay for extras like food, books, and transportation. As part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, colleges and universities had the option to transfer leftover FWS funding into the Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants (FSEOG) program. This allowed financial aid offices to instead award money to students as grants and emergency financial aid. With fewer FWS positions available for students who need the income, it’s likely your financial aid office has been overwhelmed with requests for emergency aid grants, as well. Or, perhaps you rewrote financial aid offers that contained FWS, replacing that aid with additional loans or grants. Either way, it’s amounted to an increased workload – and additional stress for students and families.

Your workload has also likely included helping students find additional off-campus or remote work opportunities, using job posting platforms like Handshake or Quadjobs. And you’ve likely seen many students take out additional loans to make up for the lost FWS funds. A small silver lining for those students who do take more in loans is that student loan interest rates are historically low.

Some full-time students are now eligible to apply for unemployment through Pandemic Unemployment Assistance. The students must prove they worked part-time, have filed a tax return, and can no longer work due to a reason related to COVID-19. Depending on the state unemployment laws, not all states allow for unemployment for student employees, so you need to be familiar with that.

Impact On SNAP Eligibility

As you likely have discovered firsthand, one unintended consequence of cutbacks in FWS is to limit student access to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which helps students afford food while obtaining their education. SNAP helps people with low-income purchase food. Reducing food insecurity for students helps them focus on academics – and is especially important during this pandemic.

Research indicates that, even before the pandemic, one in three college students struggled to meet their food needs. It’s estimated that 2 million students qualified for SNAP but didn’t receive it. Since the pandemic began, food insecurity rates have doubled, and have tripled among families with children. According to federal law, students qualify for SNAP if they meet a qualifying exception, which includes being awarded federal or state work-study and “anticipating work.” For students who don’t meet any of the exceptions, they must work 20 hours per week to receive SNAP – a requirement difficult or impossible for many students to meet during the pandemic and ensuing economic crisis.

Trying to connect students with work opportunities to help them meet the requirements needed to qualify for SNAP is an important goal. This goal will be a priority until Congress temporarily waives the SNAP student restrictions or allows the U.S. Department of Agriculture to grant state waivers to achieve this.

We Appreciate You

We know the challenges posed by COVID-19 are impacting your students on every level, in every way. We understand how much you care about your students and that it’s important to you to serve your students well. The additional administrative tasks and workload generated are just one aspect of the stress this pandemic has placed on you. We recognize the challenges you face – and we appreciate everything you’re doing to keep things on track.

Share Your Creative Ideas

Have you found any efficient ways to handle COVID-related changes to FWS? Have you found a creative way to use FWS to keep removed students employed? What other challenges are you facing? What other creative solutions have you found to new problems created by the pandemic? We invite you to share with us and your peers on LinkedIn.

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