Anabel's Grocery opened for the last time this spring on March 18, 2020. A few tables featured free groceries, while others sold items at the usual prices. (Boris Tsang/Sun Photography Editor)

November 16, 2020

Food Stamps: On the Ballot and On Campus

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More often than not, I find that discussions of food insecurity that occur on campus focus almost exclusively on off-campus communities. We discuss in depth data regarding Ithaca, Tompkins County and the nation as a whole. We discuss the implications of the recent election on food insecurity and access to food stamps without acknowledging the peers in class next to us that rely on these same assistance programs.

Many low-income college students were among the nearly 700,000 people projected to lose their SNAP benefits as a result of the new work requirements announced nearly a year ago by the Trump administration. This rule explicitly targets “able-bodied adults without dependents,” a category most college students fit into. As a population that is already purposely excluded from receiving SNAP benefits in a wide variety of cases, this rule, if enacted, could further stymie the access of college students to a well-needed resource. While the rule is projected to primarily impact part-time college students, and therefore not many on Cornell’s campus, the tightening restrictions could still impede access for students here in Ithaca as well by limiting the number of exemptions for which a student may reasonably apply. In any case, the decreasing access to information regarding federal food assistance programs, as well as the increasing numbers of restrictions and qualifications represent more barriers between students and access to consistent food. 

These barriers already stand tall as it is; in 2018, an estimated 18 percent of college students were eligible for SNAP, but only three percent actually received benefits. Under the Trump administration’s new rule, this number is expected to decrease further, even as student food insecurity continues to rise. At Cornell, the 2017 Perceptions of Undergraduate Life and Student Experiences survey identified that 27.7 percent of the student population skipped meals “occasionally to very often” due to financial constraints. 

As others have detailed, new programs that fight food insecurity and that would include students have had to fight the stereotype of a “traditional” student. Under this archetype, college students are viewed as someone typically fresh out of high school and still financially dependent on their parents. But, on Cornell’s campus and across the nation, we know this is not always the case.

Food insecurity is rampant. But, I would argue, what is equally as rampant is our denial that it is a widespread issue on our campus as well. To properly fight food insecurity in our campus community, we must first acknowledge its presence. I do not wish to downplay the impact of food insecurity in other communities, but I do wish to encourage the acknowledgement of the issue on our campus as well and encourage sensitivity to discussions surrounding food insecurity of all types. And, when you think about the federal food assistance programs and how varying administrations and court decisions may impact them, consider your peers that might directly be impacted as well.

Brianna Johnson is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at baj56@cornell.edu.