Michigan food assistance program expands to low-income college students

Students enrolled in eligible programs can receive SNAP benefits amid the coronavirus pandemic

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The state of Michigan is expanding its food assistance program in an effort to ensure college students struggling financially during the COVID pandemic can get help buying food.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) announced Wednesday that the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits program will expand to low-income college students starting Thursday, April 1.

Under a temporary change approved by the federal government, college students may be eligible for SNAP benefits if their families are estimated to be unable to contribute to their college costs or if their college or university considers them eligible for a federal or state work study program. This is regardless of whether they are enrolled in such a program, MDHHS said.

Related: Michigan gains federal approval for second round of Pandemic-EBT benefits

This could make about 200,000 more Michigan college students eligible. Benefits could be as much as $234 per month for college students who buy and prepare their food alone, the MDHHS said.

Students are considered to have no family contribution to their college expenses if they have an estimated family contribution of $0 on their federal student aid determination through the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Students also must attend college at least half-time and meet income and other requirements for food assistance. Prior to the change, college students would not be eligible for food assistance unless they were working 20 hours a week or meet certain exemptions.

Under the federal rules that are temporarily being set aside, college students ages 18-49 who are enrolled in college at least half time are not eligible for SNAP unless they meet certain exemptions, including working an average of 20 hours or more per week, participating in a state or federal work study program, having a disability, or being a parent of a child under age 6. Even if students live at home with parents who qualify for and receive food assistance, they are not counted in the household unless they meet one of the exemptions.

Eligible students will receive Bridge Cards, which are Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) cards that are similar to debit cards and can be used to buy food at stores, farmers markets and online from Amazon, Walmart and Aldi. A list of participating retailers is available on the retailer locator website.

To be eligible, students must have filed a FAFSA and have documentation of an estimated family contribution of $0 on their federal student aid determination or eligibility for work study.

How to apply

College students and others can determine if they are eligible and apply for food assistance at www.michigan.gov/MiBridges.

This is the second action taken by MDHHS during the pandemic to help college students buy food. Working with the Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity, MDHHS last year expanded food assistance eligibility to many college students enrolled in career and technical education programs.

About the Author:

Dave Bartkowiak Jr. is the digital managing editor for ClickOnDetroit.