For many students, money is scarce and getting a college education means making sacrifices, but it shouldn't mean going hungry.
A study in early 2020 showed as many as 60% of Utah's nearly 200,000 college students reported periodic food insecurity, and the pandemic has likely made that worse.
Utah officials say the USDA's recent move to extend SNAP benefits, once known as food stamps, to college students could be the lifeline they need to complete their studies.
Sean Crossland, director of the Thayne Center for Service and Learning at Salt Lake Community College, calls the change overdue.
"It's unfortunate that the pandemic had to make more visible what a lot of us have known for a long time, in that there's a ton of college students that are really hungry and experiencing food insecurity on a regular basis," Crossland observed.
Crossland noted students who qualify for other types of financial assistance should be able to get SNAP benefits as well, although the change is only temporary.
He advised contacting their school's financial aid office for information on how to apply.
Crossland added many students work one or more jobs to support their families when they're not in classes, so the immediate challenge is to get the word to students about the expanded SNAP benefits and help them apply.
"It's hard for me to know what the immediate impact will be, because for so long it has been something that students have just understood as something that they can't get because they're students," Crossland explained.
The average monthly SNAP benefit for an individual is about $140, and around $500 for a family of four.
Crossland believes the federal government should make access to SNAP benefits permanently available for needy students.
"This opens up a bigger conversation that we can have, not just in terms of pandemic response, but in terms of what it means to be a college student," Crossland remarked. "To me, it seems like a no-brainer that this would be a permanent change, but I know it's only a temporary expansion."
The extension of benefits for college students is only in effect until 30 days after the federal COVID-19 public health emergency is lifted.