HARRISBURG — College students temporarily will be eligible for food stamp benefits, Secretary of Human Services Teresa Miller said Monday.

The change was included in the COVID relief legislation signed into law in December by former President Donald Trump.

Before the change, college students weren’t eligible for food stamps unless they were working 20 hours a week. Now, students who are eligible for work-study programs can get food stamp benefits whether they have jobs or not.

Department of Education Deputy Secretary for Postsecondary and Higher Education Dr. Tanya I. Garcia said even college students who normally would hold jobs that would entitle them to the benefits weren’t able to work due to the pandemic economic crisis.

Miller said research has shown that roughly one-third of college students have experienced food insecurity.

“Food insecurity is yet another issue that learners are facing during the pandemic, and should not create further barriers to academic success,” Garcia said.

Miller said that even before the expansion to include more college students, demand for food stamp benefits had increased due to the pandemic.

Enrollment for SNAP statewide increased by 84,389 people since February 2020, for a total enrollment of about 1,821,848 in December — a 4.9 percent increase. Enrollment in SNAP peaked in September and has gone down slightly since then, she said.

Miller said that on average food stamps, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program provides about $4 per day per person.

“It’s intended to be supplemental. It’s not intended to cover all food needs,” Miller said. “It’s a lot better than nothing,” she said.

Miller said that the temporary rule change is expected to remain in place at least through the end of 2021. However, she said state officials would prefer that Congress would make the change permanent.

“In a time when so many are struggling, we are hopeful that this will be another resource that we can extend to families who are feeling this economic strain most acutely,” Miller said. “We urge Congress to make this change permanent so that no student has to go hungry again,” she said.

Applications for SNAP and other public assistance programs that provide help with medical care, utilities, home energy, and cash assistance can be submitted online at www.compass.state.pa.us.

John Finnerty reports from the Harrisburg Bureau for The Meadville Tribune and other Pennsylvania newspapers owned by CNHI. Email him at jfinnerty@cnhi.com and follow him on Twitter @cnhipa.

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