|DATE:||June 2, 2022|
|SUBJECT:||Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) - Clarification on Treatment of Meal Plans at Institutions of Higher Education|
|TO:||All SNAP State Agencies
This memo serves to remind state Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) agencies of the provisions under Section 3(m) of the Food and Nutrition Act of 2008, as amended (the Act) and 7 CFR 273.1(b)(7)(vi), as they relate to meal plans at institutions of higher education.1
There has been some recent confusion among state agencies on the eligibility of applicants with meal plans at institutions of higher education. State SNAP agencies must not deny an applicant simply because the applicant participates in a meal plan at an institution of higher education. Instead, states must determine the scope of an applicant’s meal plan to determine eligibility.
Section 3(m)(4) of the Act states that an individual is an ineligible household member if they reside in an institution, boarding house, or else live with others and pay compensation to others for meals. The provisions of 7 CFR 273.1(b)(7)(vi) define individuals as residents of institutions if they receive a majority of their meals (more than 50 percent of three meals daily) as part of the institution’s normal services.
Individuals who receive the majority of their meals (more than 50 percent of three meals daily) through a meal plan are considered residents of an institution and ineligible for SNAP under Section 3(m)(4) of the Act and 7 CFR 273.1(b)(7)(vi). Individuals who do not receive the majority of their meals from a meal plan are not residents of an institution and may be eligible for SNAP, if they meet other eligibility criteria.
Institutions of higher education may have mandatory or optional meal plans both of which are considered normal services of an institution. State agencies must consider both mandatory and optional meal plans when determining eligibility. 2 Individuals who receive the majority of their meals through either a mandatory or optional meal plan are ineligible for SNAP.
Therefore, a SNAP state agency should methodically and comprehensively screen SNAP applicants on a case-by-case basis to determine the scope of the applicant’s meal plan. As an example, an eligibility worker may ask the applicant the number of meals they will receive through a meal plan. The applicant may respond that they will receive breakfast and lunch every weekday through their meal plan, which is equivalent to 10 meals per week. Though the applicant will receive two of three daily meals through the meal plan on weekdays, the state agency would not consider the applicant to be a resident of an institution because 10 meals per week is less than the majority of 21 total weekly meals.
FNS recognizes that meal plan structure may vary from institution to institution; the value of a meal plan may be counted by the number of meals, points, or dollars included. State agencies should fully explore a student’s circumstances to determine how to treat such plans. States may need to ask students for clarification if it is unclear how many meals they receive from a meal plan.
The following example illustrates how a state may evaluate varying meal plan levels.
- Unlimited Plan: Designed for 3 meals a day plus snacks (highest cost).
- Level 4 Plan: Designed for 3 meals a day (high cost).
- Level 3 Plan: Designed for 2 meals every day (moderate cost).
- Level 2 Plan: Designed for about 2 meals a day on weekdays (lower cost).
- Level 1: Designed for light snacks (lowest cost).
In this example, the state agency could assume that students receive less than 50 percent of their meals from the meal plan if they participate in Level 1 or Level 2. The state agency could assume that students participating in Level 3, 4, 5, or Unlimited Plans receive more than 50 percent of their meals from the institution.
Additionally, state agencies should make every attempt to screen students of institutions of higher education for all currently allowable exemptions by ensuring staff evaluate the student’s qualification for each of the criteria outlined in 7 CFR 273.5 and the temporary exemptions in the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021. Appropriate screening and application of exemptions from student eligibility restrictions are vital to the successful implementation of SNAP. FNS recommends that states ensure their policy manuals are up to date and that the state accurately determines eligibility in regards to individuals considered as residents of institutions according to 7 CFR 273.1(b)(7)(vi), in addition to the provisions of 7 CFR 273.5, which define a student for SNAP purposes.
State agencies with questions may contact their respective regional office representatives.
Program Development Division