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Students On Food Stamps: The Florida Situation In 2008

August 13, 2008

Just saw this at InsideHigherEd.com:

“More than 54,000 college students in Florida are receiving Food Stamps, an increase of 44 percent over this time last year, The Miami Herald reported. The increase is attributed to the deteriorating economy.”

Here’s more from The Herald:

——————–

– That’s about twice the rate of increase for food-stamp recipients in the population as a whole. [from 2007 to 2008] …
– “It’s pretty much impossible to get by anymore without some help,” said John English, a Palm Beach Community College student who has received stamps.
– English, 20, said he was in a halfway house when he moved to South Florida from Ohio. And signing up for the stamps wasn’t hard.
– “I got in easy,” he said. “But then I got a job that paid a decent amount, and I couldn’t qualify for food stamps anymore.”
– But English later changed jobs. He now works at Best Buy in Boca Raton, and he again qualifies for help. He applied at a Department of Children & Families service center in Delray Beach on Monday and went back Tuesday to set up an interview.
– English is a member of a Facebook group called “I Ain’t Ashamed to Be on Food Stamps,” which had 109 members — mostly all college students — on Tuesday.
– Food banks are also reporting an increase in student traffic.
– “They’re in school, trying to better themselves, and times are hard,” said Barbara Morris, volunteer liaison at the Cross Road Food Bank and Pantry in Fort Lauderdale. “They’re just trying to do what they can to make it.” …
– DCF manages the food stamp program in Florida on behalf of the federal government, which pays for it.
– It’s easier than one might expect for students to qualify for the stamps, which now take the form of a special debt card instead of paper.
– To qualify, a single student must have a monthly income of less than $1,107 and meet one of the following criteria:
—Be the caretaker of a child under 6
—Participate in federally financed work study program or
—Work at least 20 hours per week.

– There are other criteria, but those are the most common requirements.
– The $1,107 maximum monthly income might seem like a major eligibility obstacle if the student’s parents are paying expenses. But that isn’t necessarily so. The reason: Under federal rules, many non-cash payments don’t count as income. If the parents pay $700 per month directly to a landlord for a student’s rent, for example, that doesn’t count.
– However, if the parents gave the money directly to the student, who in turn paid the rent, then it would count as income, said Nivaldo Cruz, policy unit manager for DCF’s food stamp program in Miami-Dade County.
– Under the food stamp program, a single recipient receives up to $162 per month to be used for food, depending on income, Cruz said.
– But food stamp recipients can’t just go into a grocery and buy whatever they want. The debit card can only be used to buy food staples such as milk, bread, cereal, meat, fruits and vegetables. Alcoholic beverages, cigarettes, toilet paper, toothpaste, pet food and prepared deli foods such as hot cooked chicken are not allowed.
– Nor are food-stamp applications a suitable place for college-student mischief: Deceiving the government to get food stamps is a crime punishable with jail time and fines.

——————–

This makes me wonder if I would’ve qualified during my 1989-94 stint in college? I’ll have to think back on each year’s particulars. I suspect I would’ve in a few years, but not all.

But, on the situation in general, wow. I suspect this is occurring with CC students in general due to the lack of a dormitory dining hall situation like one finds on a four-year school’s campus. If so, we’d have to look for Food Stamp recipients among apartment-dwelling students at four-year schools. – TL

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5 Comments
  1. there are two things here:

    1) increase in number of students on food stamps
    2) increase in number of college students

    is 1) due to formerly non-foodstamp receiving students starting to receive?

    Or has 2) resulted in an increase in college attendance amongst people who in the past would have qualified for food stamps but not attended college?

    In other words, is this the result of declining conditions for already existing students? Or is it a result of the fact that people from more challenged economic backgrounds are attending colleges?

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  2. CM,

    I see your point. It sounds like they would've had to see a very significant one year jump in enrollments to explain the massive rate of increase. We have to trust/hope that this factor has been accounted for in that the piece's focus is on declining living conditions for college students.

    Then again, declining economies often send people back to school, so perhaps higher education institutions in Florida are seeing a disproportionate number of the economically displaced. The fact that they come in with less means would, of course, signify no decline in overall conditions, but rather an inability to absorb or help a specific population.

    – TL

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  3. some quick research reveals the following: There are at least 1.3 million college students in Florida at State Universities, Community Colleges, and Private Colleges/Universities. 56,114 students receiving food stamps this year means 37,581 received them last year (if 56,114 is a 44% increase). That's an increase of 16,535 students. I think it's easily feasible that 16,535 students in a state with a college population of well over 1 million might well be increased enrollment. Even if it is not. the 44% figure is a “scare rate” because the 16,000 increase is positively miniscule. While college students on foodstamps may well be the result of a failing economy, I really think it's evidence that different kinds of people are going to college. I also think this was a lazy article that gave the impression that the “problem” is much bigger than it actually is. The rate of increase is double that of the general population because, in 2007, only 2.9% of the college students in Florida needed/took advantage of these programs. I'd bet that's WELL below the rate of use/need for the State as a whole.

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  4. Anonymous permalink

    aha! now we have the real crux of the issue. From the guidelines of the Florida food stamp program:

    Students
    Most able-bodied students, ages 18 through 49 enrolled in college or other institutions of higher education at least half time, are not eligible for food stamp benefits. However, students may be able to get food stamp benefits if they are:
    • Physically or mentally unfit,
    • Receiving Temporary Cash Assistance benefits,
    • Participating in a state or federally financed work study program,
    • Enrolled in college as a result of participation in a Job Opportunities and Basic Skill program under Title IV of the Social Security Act,
    • Work at least 20 hours per week,
    • Participating in an on-the-job training program,
    5
    • Taking care of a dependent household member under the age of 6,
    • Taking care of a dependent household member over the age of 5 but under 12 and do not have adequate child care to enable them to attend school and work a minimum of 20 hours, or to take part in a state or federally financed work study program, or
    • Single parent enrolled full time in college and taking care of a dependent household member under the age of 12.
    —–

    I note especially the “work 20 hours a week” provision and submit that this is the causal link. What is going on here is that more students are eligible–because more are working 20 hours a week–both as a result of economic downturn (can't afford to go to college without working) and increased pressure to attend college (need a degree to get ahead, etc). There are other factors that the article didn't consider either (which I don't have the time to research as well). Most importantly, the Food Stamp program changes its income guidelines each year. It's quite possible that these have been altered as well, expanding the eligibility of students.

    My major issue is that this information is the kind of thing that should be part of this reporting. It was lacking from the original piece, and as a result, I think an incorrect impression of the true situation in Florida was given.

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  5. CM & Anon,

    That 20-hours per week requirement actually makes the story more interesting (if not the article itself).

    Bringing this back to me and my college days, I worked 20 hours per week during my last 3 years of school.

    – TL

    Like

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