When Washington State University senior Emma Draluck moved out of the dorms, one of the first things she did was apply for food stamps.
“It’s a resource that’s available to me and I might as well use it,” said the 21-year-old psychology major. She qualified and receives $200 a month in benefits, allowing her to eat healthy food, pay her bills and afford rent.
Food stamps, or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, provide financial support to low-income individuals to purchase food. If a one-person household has a monthly gross income of $1,862 or less, it may be eligible for food stamps. Generally, if college students are eligible for work-study, they are also eligible for food stamps.
However, the Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act of 2012 may limit eligibility for college students to those in two-year colleges, trade schools, or remedial or literacy classes.
The Senate-passed version of the bill will cut $4.5 billion over the next 10 years from the food stamp program. The new version the House proposed Thursday makes even deeper cuts— up to $16 billion a year over the next 10 years.
“At this point, I see cuts to SNAP in some form or other as an almost certainty,” said Yvonne Pitrof, who serves on the Washington Food Coalition’s advocacy board. The WFC is a nonprofit group comprised of more than 300 emergency food providers across the state.
“Unless there are some pretty big changes in the public and political will to strengthen and support this vitally important program now, at a time when we very much need it,” Pitrof said.
In addition to new limitations on college students’ eligibility, the proposed cuts would also eliminate allowances letting families count utilities in their monthly expenses, reducing the number of eligible families, Washington State Basic Food administrator John Camp said.
“That’s going to add barriers for households,” Camp said.
In addition to using food stamps, more college students are using community food banks than ever before.
Moscow Food Bank Director Linda Nickels said the food bank has seen an increase in college students using that service, particularly in August and September when the school year begins at the University of Idaho.
Nickels added that food banks do not maintain specific statistics on their patrons.
In Whitman County, 3,923 people are receiving SNAP benefits, Camp said. In Latah County, 3,048 people are receiving benefits, according to to the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare. Whitman County also reports the highest poverty level in Washington State, at 24.4 percent, according to U.S. Censusdata. Latah County’s poverty rate is the 10th highest in Idaho at 17.6 percent.
The number of Washington state residents receiving SNAP benefits has increased by 16.5 percent in the last five years, according to the Food Research & Action Center, a national nonprofit organization. In the last year, that number has increased by 5.2 percent. In Idaho, the number of people receiving SNAP benefits has increased more rapidly in the last five years; 166.8 percent more people receive food stamps today than in 2007. In the last year, 2.4 percent more people received benefit.
Pitrof said the rise in people using food stamps reflects the program’s success, and is working as a relief program as it was designed to do.
“They’re doing what they’re supposed to do,” Pitrof said. “And of course need is up, of course more people are on (food stamps), and when the economy gets better, that will go back down.”
Pitrof said food banks are already struggling in the poor economy. Need has increased and donations have decreased, and many people who use the food bank have already been hurt by cuts to social programs. Pitrof estimates more than 200,000 Washington families would be affected by further cuts.
“We’re already stretched,” she said. “It’s not a matter of cutting that and the private sector will just take care of it.”
Pitrof said she was disappointed with the Senate’s final vote, adding that the WFC will continue to work with congress members to gather support for SNAP.
“I guess I feel like they’re going to continue to raise tuition,” Draluck said. Draluck is paying her own way through college, and though she receives work-study benefits, a Pell Grant and other grants from the university, she has to take out about $7,000 in loans to pay for school each year.
“The least that the government can do is allow me to not have to spend tons of money that I don’t have (on food) because I’m spending it on an education,” Draluck said.