Colleges rush to sign students up for food aid, as pandemic rules make more eligible

This past school year, Madeline Waters struggled to find a way to pay for food while also studying for classes. As a nutrition major at Sacramento State University, she wasn’t unfamiliar with what skipping meals could mean for her academic career. So this spring she applied, yet again, for food stamps.

“I was really hungry, and my brain cells were barely functioning,” she said. “I was trying to get food and I’d fill out the paperwork and I was trying to make sure I covered everything.”

Waters had already been turned down twice for CalFresh, California’s name for the federal food assistance program. But in March, she said, her life dramatically changed for the better when her application was approved.

Waters’ success stems from a federal law passed during the COVID-19 pandemic that temporarily expands food stamp eligibility for college students. In response to the law, some California community colleges and universities are stepping up their efforts to help students apply for CalFresh. The new rules will remain in effect until 30 days after the Secretary of Health and Human Services declares the COVID-19 public health emergency declaration lifted.

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