by Nicole Salama and Megan Thiesfeld
For many of us, trips to the grocery store are a weekly occurrence. We pick up a shopping cart and stroll through the aisles, picking out food that will sustain and nurture us through the triumphs and trials of everyday life, at least for the next week. Whether we’re busy and trying to rush out of the store as quickly as possible with whatever food we need, or we can take our time, browsing through the tantalizing options displayed on the shelves, the grocery store is a kind of oasis. It offers the necessary nutrition and calories we need to live for another week, but also the food we cook and share with each other to celebrate, mourn, relax, and so much more. However, for those on tighter budgets, grocery shopping can be stressful—and for reasons other than adding yet another activity to a to-do list. When there’s not enough weekly income to buy enough food at the store to sustain either an individual or a family, SNAP can be a beneficial resource.
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, is a federal program that provides nutrition benefits to low-income individuals and families. At qualifying grocery stores and farmers markets, SNAP may be used as cash to purchase food. The program is administered by the USDA Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) through its nationwide network of FNS field offices. Since it was established as part of F.D.R.’s New Deal in the 1930s, SNAP has helped individuals and families who are food insecure. At the time of its founding, “food stamps” were a necessary tool to assist in alleviating the food insecurity of the many families who suffered financially during the Great Depression. Today, these food stamps have evolved into the SNAP program, and local FNS field offices are responsible for the licensing and monitoring of retail food stores that participate in SNAP, thus continuing to provide the necessary resources to support individuals and families in need.
For those who qualify, SNAP is simple to use. While SNAP is a federal program, it’s managed and applied differently by each state. The State of Texas has stricter rules than most regarding who qualifies for SNAP, and those rules may be found here. Once a person qualifies, the state issues a debit card with the approved funds already loaded onto it. In Texas, this debit card is called a “Lone Star Card.” These cards may be used to purchase food only, with certain items such as alcohol and tobacco not included. The debit card makes it easy to buy foods at a grocery store without any differentiation among customers.
With this basic application process in mind, pertinent questions include: who qualifies for SNAP? And how can qualified individuals access this resource? As a federal program, SNAP is available to any US citizen. This broad availability includes college students, regardless of their dependency status. In the case of students, SNAP is often available to those who qualify for federal work-study. Typically, able-bodied individuals may utilize SNAP for a single 3-month-period if they do not have dependents and if they fail to seek work.
However, for those who work at least twenty hours a week or are enrolled in a training program, SNAP is often renewable. Additionally, pregnant women and individuals with disabilities that prohibit them from finding work can often renew their SNAP privileges without meeting these expectations. Each individual eligible for SNAP is assigned a case manager who requires work status documentation every 3 months to assess whether that individual will continue to qualify for the benefits and if the amount of these benefits ought to change. For a single person to be eligible for SNAP in Texas, his or her monthly income must be $1,755 or less. With each additional individual within the household who seeks to qualify for SNAP, the threshold rises by $616. These Texas guidelines are stricter and more stringent than those of many other states.
Baylor students are not immune to struggles with food insecurity. While the University itself does not collect data on which of students utilize SNAP, populations who use free food resources such as The Store may also supplement their food income with SNAP benefits. Baylor students face unique challenges in terms of buying, eating, and keeping food. For most students, college is a largely social experience, and buying and consuming food is the center of much social activity on the Baylor campus, as it is on campuses of other universities. However, not all of Baylor’s students have the funds to participate freely in the social culture of “grabbing a cup of coffee” or “having a meal together” that is so prevalent among college students. These students must to reserve all of their available resources to purchase enough food to simply keep themselves healthy. In this way, food insecurity can alienate certain students from the rest of the Baylor community because they cannot participate in food-based social activities and rituals. For many Baylor students, then, SNAP can help to alleviate concerns about finances, health, and social life, not to mention the many stressors that come with work and classes.
SNAP has many advantages, both for Baylor students and for the wider community. For students and any others who qualify for these benefits, SNAP can provide ongoing food support in a way that no other nutritional assistance program can. While churches, food pantries, and other such service organizations try their best to fill the food gap, there are still many Americans dealing with food insecurity with little to no support, and because SNAP is federally funded, it can be a renewable resource that other programs can’t match. At Baylor, students may hear primarily about The Store, The Fridge, the Free Farmers Market, or other free food resources that Baylor oversees. As a result, these resources are often the ones that students are most inclined to use.
However, SNAP is a far more sustainable resource than The Store, since it supplements an individual’s personal grocery funds in a way that Baylor’s free food programs cannot. Additionally, especially for those with dietary restrictions, SNAP provides far more food options. Although resources such as The Store strive to provide a few gluten-free, vegetarian, and vegan items, these options are much more limited. On the other hand, the grocery stores that work with the FNS offices often provide their patrons with significantly more options and cater to a diverse range of dietary restrictions.
That said, all qualifying students (regardless of dietary restrictions) can benefit greatly from utilizing SNAP in conjunction with the free food resources that Baylor University provides. The advantages of SNAP are not limited to those who directly receive benefits from this federal program. Because SNAP works like a debit card, the money individuals spend at stores to purchase food ultimately circulates back into the community. Thus, SNAP stimulates the local economy, while also helping to lessen part of the nation’s food insecure population, creating a symbiotic relationship that assists society as a whole, including the state of Texas and our own town of Waco.
Ever since its introduction by FDR, food stamps and other similar programs have been stigmatized, with some saying that people who rely on government aid are lazy, unmotivated, or living off handouts. This stereotype is not only harmful—it is simply untrue. To be eligible for SNAP, able-bodied individuals must either be actively searching for a job or working at least 20 hours a week. Because of the stigma, though, many people—and especially college students—are either unaware or embarrassed by food assistance programs such as SNAP. This sense of shame is detrimental to students who truly need access to food insecurity initiatives, as they are made to feel lesser than their peers about financial situations that are often out of the students’ own control. There should be no shame for a student—or anyone—who is merely trying to meet their most basic of needs for survival. Moreover, the stigma surrounding SNAP leads students using the program to be less inclined to discuss their experience, which in turn only furthers the idea that it’s shameful or embarrassing to receive help from a government-funded program. Furthermore, since SNAP is federally funded, the discourse surrounding it is often politically charged and lacking in a true understanding of what the program is and what it does.
For instance, as Craig Nash, Regional Manager of Baylor University’s Texas Hunger Initiative explains, some professors on college campuses may be hesitant about including SNAP and other resources on their syllabi for a number of reasons, including personal political beliefs as well as a misunderstanding what exactly these resources provide. The main reason for such opposition, however, is that professors argue there is already so much required information included on syllabi that adding a section on food insecurity initiatives would make syllabi too long. This line of thinking only furthers stigma surrounding such resources—and deems them less important than other services actually mentioned in syllabi, such as the Writing Center or the Wellness Center.
As Baylor is an expensive private university, there is also the assumption that all students who attend are well-off. Because of this stereotype, food assistance programs such as SNAP, The Store, and The Fridge are often unknown to the students who could benefit from them the most. As a community, though, Baylor students, faculty, and staff can help to change this situation. All students should be aware of the many food insecurity efforts available to them, and the conversations regarding these resources should be approached in an empowering, positive light rather than a negative one.
While there has been a movement recently to bring awareness to the free food programs that are available to Baylor students who may need them, there is still more work that can be done. Professors, counselors, academic advisors, and community leaders should be made aware of SNAP and its benefits for college students, and they should consider referring students to SNAP instead of just short-term food insecure solutions such as The Store. Furthermore, the student body itself can work to change the idea that everyone who attends Baylor is financially well-off. So if you notice a friend struggling with food insecurity, you might address this issue in a friendly manner, saying, “Hey, did you know there’s a place on campus that gives out free food?” instead of “The food pantry is for people who can’t afford food” or “Let me buy you a meal.” Making conversations about the need for food security on our campus can help do away with the stigma surrounding SNAP and other such food assistance programs. College students already have so much on their metaphorical plate—and having to face an actual empty plate should not be something that contributes to their stress.
“SNAP Work Requirements.” USDA, 29 May 2019,
“What Can SNAP Buy?” USDA, 4 Sept. 2020,
U.S. Department of Agriculture, Food and Nutrition Service, Office of Policy Support, Characteristics of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Households: Fiscal Year 2019, by Kathryn Cronquist. Project Officer, Barbara Murphy. Alexandria, VA, 2021. www.fns.usda.gov/snap/eligible-food-items .
Loudenback, Tanza, and Liz Knueven. “What Average Americans Spend on Groceries Every Month in 22 Major Cities.” Business Insider, Business Insider, 5 Mar. 2020, www.businessinsider.com/personal-finance/what-americans-spend-on-groceries-every-month-2019-4 .