|DATE:||Feb. 7, 2023|
|SUBJECT:||Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program - Institutions of Higher Education and Student Eligibility Rules|
|TO:||All SNAP State Agencies|
FNS is committed to ensuring that all eligible individuals receive SNAP benefits. One policy area that impacts eligibility is the statutory and regulatory restrictions that apply to students enrolled in institutions of higher education (IHE). It has come to FNS’s attention that, due to confusion about what constitutes enrollment in an IHE for SNAP eligibility purposes, states may be subjecting individuals to the restrictions on student eligibility unnecessarily. This memo serves to clarify two elements of longstanding SNAP policy: which individuals are considered enrolled in an IHE and, therefore, subject to the student eligibility rules at 7 CFR 273.5(a), and which students are exempt from the SNAP work requirements at 7 CFR 273.7(b)(1)(viii).
Enrollment in Institutions of Higher Education
Whether an individual is enrolled in an IHE for SNAP eligibility purposes is defined by three criteria: enrollment status, the type of school, and the type of curriculum.
The regulations at 7 CFR 273.5(a) provide that an individual enrolled at least half-time in an IHE is only eligible for SNAP if they meet certain criteria (exemptions). The school must determine a student’s enrollment status (i.e., half time, full time). Only students enrolled in IHEs half-time, or more are required to meet a student exemption at 7 CFR 273.5(b) to be eligible for SNAP. Individuals enrolled less than half-time do not have to meet a student exemption to be eligible for SNAP.
Business, technical, trade, or vocational schools
An individual is considered enrolled in an IHE if they are enrolled in a business, technical, trade, or vocational school and in a curriculum that normally requires a high school diploma or equivalent for enrollment. Individuals enrolled at least half-time in these types of curriculums at these types of schools are considered enrolled in an IHE and must meet a student exemption to be eligible for SNAP.
However, individuals enrolled at least half-time in these types of schools, but in a curriculum that does not normally require a high school diploma or equivalent, are not considered enrolled in an IHE and, therefore, do not need to meet a student exemption to be eligible for SNAP. This means that if they meet all other eligibility requirements, they are eligible for SNAP.
An individual is considered enrolled in an IHE if they are enrolled in a regular curriculum at a college or university that offers degrees regardless of whether a high school diploma is required. Individuals enrolled at least half-time in a regular curriculum at a college must meet a student exemption to be eligible for SNAP.
However, individuals enrolled at least half-time at a college, but in a program outside of the regular curriculum, are not considered enrolled in an IHE and, therefore, do not need to meet a student exemption. This means if they meet all other eligibility criteria, they are eligible for SNAP.
Many colleges offer special programs that are not part of the regular curriculum. These can include remedial education, continuing or community education, professional development, English for speakers of other languages, and workforce development/training programs. Community colleges in particular have grown their course offerings to include a diverse array of workforce development and occupational training programs that are not part of their regular curriculums. FNS does not consider individuals enrolled in programs like these to be enrolled in an IHE. Therefore, if they meet all other eligibility criteria, they do not need to meet a student exemption to be eligible for SNAP.
Below are some examples of curriculum at colleges that are considered outside of the regular curriculum:
- University of Arkansas offers professional and workforce development as part of the Reimagine Arkansas Workforce Project.2
- Northern Virginia Community College offers continuing education and workforce development programs.3
- Bunker Hill Community College in Massachusetts offers a wide array of community and workforce development opportunities.4
Please see the enclosure for a flowchart to assist in determining whether an individual is enrolled in an IHE for SNAP eligibility purposes.
Screening and Operationalizing
FNS would like to emphasize the importance of accurate and thorough screening to ensure access to SNAP and consistency with federal law. Not all individuals enrolled in college or business, technical, trade and vocational schools are considered enrolled in IHEs; rather state agencies must also consider the individual’s curriculum and enrollment status to determine if the individual must meet an exemption to be eligible for SNAP.
FNS acknowledges that this policy is complex and difficult to operationalize at the ground level. Therefore, FNS encourages states to collaborate with regional FNS offices and state departments of higher education to determine which schools and which curriculums within schools should be considered IHEs for SNAP purposes and create statewide policies and standardized screening processes, rather than examining each individual’s unique circumstance. FNS also encourages states to implement training on this subject to ensure state policies and processes are applied appropriately and consistent with federal law.
Once states have identified whether an individual is considered a student enrolled at least half time in an institution of higher education, states have the responsibility to methodically and comprehensively screen those individuals to determine if they qualify for any currently allowable exemptions outlined in 7 CFR 273.5(b). Exemptions include participating in a state or federally financed work study program, working at least 20 hours a week, and being unable to work due to a physical or mental limitation, among others.
Exemption from Work Requirements
FNS would also like to clarify that the following are eligible for SNAP benefits and exempt from the general work requirements in accordance with 7 CFR 273.7(b)(1)(viii), meaning they are exempt from mandatory employment and training and are not considered able-bodied adults without dependents subject to the time limit:
- Students enrolled at least half-time in a recognized school or training program, and
- Students enrolled at least half-time in an IHE and who meet an exemption under 7 CFR 273.5(b).
State agencies with questions should contact their respective FNS regional office representatives.
Program Development Division
1 “College” will be used throughout this guidance document to refer to all kinds of colleges and universities, including community, two-year, four-year, and graduate colleges or universities.
2 Reimagine Workforce Project | Professional and Workforce Development | University of Arkansas (uark.edu)
3 Continuing Education - Northern Virginia Community College (nvcc.edu)
4 Workforce - Bunker Hill Community College (bhcc.edu)