Time is running out for San Jose students to get food benefits
San Jose State University helped 422 students apply to CalFresh alongside nonprofit Second Harvest of Silicon Valley during the 2021-22 school year. Photo by Alexandria Bordas.

    College students experiencing food insecurity need to sign up for CalFresh within the next month before pandemic-era eligibility rules expire.

    The state-run nutrition program, formerly the Food Stamp program, will end two temporary rules for students on June 10 that made it easier for them to access assistance. Until then, college students who qualify for a federal work-study program or have no family contribution toward their education are eligible. Unless students apply before June 10, they will lose those benefits with the return of pre-pandemic, complicated requirements.

    “Students are urged to check on their eligibility for CalFresh benefits before June 10 when expanded pandemic eligibility requirements expire,” San Jose State University spokesperson Robin McElhatton told San José Spotlight.

    McElhatton said the average monthly CalFresh benefit is $217. That means new students that file in time, or returning CalFresh recipients, could receive up to a year’s worth of benefits under current rules before they have to recertify. Pandemic-era CalFresh benefits provided an additional $95 or more monthly, but those benefits ended as of April.

    McElhatton said SJSU helped 422 students apply to CalFresh alongside nonprofit food bank Second Harvest of Silicon Valley during the 2021-22 school year. A 2021 SJSU basic needs survey found that a little less than a third of students, or roughly 29%, faced food insecurity. Students can access CalFresh through the SJSU Cares website, she added.

    Tracy Weatherby, vice president of strategy and advocacy for Second Harvest of Silicon Valley, said serious consideration needs to be given to extending the temporary eligibility rules, or loosening requirements entirely. She said students will soon be expected to hold a job in addition to taking classes in order to qualify. Second Harvest provides food and CalFresh application assistance to SJSU and local community college students, she added.

    “Under normal CalFresh rules, you have to not only be attending school full time, but working 20 hours per week,” Weatherby told San José Spotlight. “That’s incredibly difficult for most students to try and navigate.”

    SJSU Student Homeless Alliance President Anthony Majano said CalFresh is unfortunately a staple for many students. Food prices increased by 10.8% last year. A 2022 report showed San Jose topped the list for the most expensive major U.S. city for monthly bills.

    “We don’t have much flexibility with the way we spend with the rising cost of living, especially in San Jose,” Majano told San José Spotlight. “It really affects the way we can think about shopping, think about buying groceries and what we can afford to eat and what we can afford to leave out.”

    Food insecurity soared during the COVID-19 pandemic, prompting CalFresh to increase its benefits. In Santa Clara County, an additional 22% of residents sought out CalFresh. Local school districts still maintain food programs for families and now provide universal, free school lunches for students.

    Gisela Bushey, senior advisor and former CEO of nonprofit Loaves & Fishes Family Kitchen, said students’ basic needs must be met in order for them to do well academically. The organization is ready to lend a hand to those who don’t qualify for the program or can’t rely completely on the program’s benefits, she added.

    Loaves & Fishes CEO David Hott said food insecurity isn’t going away in Santa Clara County and residents have to rely on various organizations for help.

    “We’ve tripled to quadrupled the amount of meals that we’re providing to the community since the beginning of the pandemic,” Hott told San José Spotlight.

    Contact Loan-Anh Pham at [email protected] or follow @theLoanAnhLede on Twitter.

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