Public News Service: 40,000 Illinois students eligible for SNAP

By Veronica Carter

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. – Thousands of college students in Illinois became eligible to receive SNAP benefits at the first of the year, but many don’t realize it.

So now a campaign is under way to let the students know about their eligibility so they won’t drop out of school because of financial reasons.

New rules issued by the Illinois Department of Human Services allow both full and part-time students to apply for food assistance.

Niya Kelly, state legislative director for the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, calls it a victory. She says the old rules were antiquated because they painted a picture of a typical college student as coming from an upper-middle-class family.

“That idea of what a college student looks like is not, in fact, reality,” she stresses. “We have a lot of students who are living in poverty, who are older students, who are returning to school to make a better way for them to be able to support their family.”

Last year, House Bill 3211 got bipartisan support and was approved in the House and Senate, but Gov. Bruce Rauner vetoed it, saying the Illinois Student Assistance Commission should not be required to notify students they are eligible for SNAP.

Despite the veto, the Illinois Department of Human Services changed the rules, and students can now apply for benefits.

Kelly says students are going to college so they can get a good job, and that helps the state’s economy.

“These programs are short programs, these are CNA programs, these are automotive programs, these are IT programs where there is a demand in those markets,” she explains. “And we just need to allow these students who just need a little bit of help getting over the hump,” she states.

Kelly says 48 percent of college students report experiencing food insecurity, and one in five say they’ve had to skip meals.

Legislation to make the SNAP rule change permanent, Senate Bill 351, is before state lawmakers this session.