Virginia lawmakers this year took notice of the fact that so many college students don’t know where their next meal is coming from. The General Assembly passed legislation that will require Virginia’s public colleges and universities to ensure that all students have access to accurate information about the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), including eligibility and how to apply.
There’s no question many of our students need help.
With funding from the Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield Foundation and additional sources, most of our colleges have set up food pantries to help hungry students. (Student volunteers are pictured here restocking the shelves at Mountain Gateway Community College (formerly known as Dabney S. Lancaster CC).
Legislation at hand:
The 2022 General Assembly focused on SNAP, but a program available on all Virginia community college campuses already provides access to SNAP screening, plus a host of other social services that could help students overcome many of the non-academic barriers that stand in their way.
Several of our colleges had Single Stop available even before VCCS colleges began rolling out the Single Stop program statewide in the fall of 2020. Single Stop is provided by a national non-profit that designed a brief online screener to connect applicants to a full range of local, state and federal social service and public assistance programs, including food stamps, local food pantries, housing programs, veteran’s benefits, and job assistance. Single Stop can be customized to include student services provided through local college foundations or other resources. The tool even includes online tax preparation help.
Since our colleges first adopted Single Stop, the tool has been used to screen more than 11,500 students and has connected them with almost $19 million in benefits.
“For many students, knowing they have financial assistance is the difference between staying enrolled in school and dropping out,” said Julie Fainter, success coach at Laurel Ridge Community College (formerly known as Lord Fairfax CC). “When basic needs are no longer a constant worry, students can better focus on their course work. Single Stop is one of our important tools for making sure students get the help they’re entitled to receive.”
“I have been able not only to attend college but to excel, because of the help from my success coach and Single Stop,” said Laurel Ridge student Chantelle Thierry. Thierry is a single parent working toward a degree in human services and counts on SNAP and other benefits she accessed through Single Stop. “I think Single Stop should be advertised a lot more. I could have missed it very easily.”
Help is on the way:
The VCCS system office is putting the finishing touches on a set of media materials to help colleges promote Single Stop on campus and will share those marketing assets with colleges by mid-June. Work also is underway to develop guidance to colleges who will need to update their websites to comply with the General Assembly’s new law on SNAP benefits.
“Whether or not lawmakers had enacted legislation to promote student knowledge about SNAP benefits, it would only make sense for us to do more to promote Single Stop,” said Van Wilson, VCCS associate vice chancellor for Student Experience and Strategic Initiatives. “We know there are many students who qualify for programs that can help remove or reduce some of the non-academic barriers that keep them from being able to focus on their studies. I hope that our faculty and staff will take every opportunity they have to encourage all VCCS students to access the Single Stop site on the college’s web page.”
Students should contact their student services office or search the college’s web site to learn more about Single Stop and other resources that are available to support their success.
Below is the text of the SNAP legislation, which passed both chambers of the legislature by wide margins and goes into effect this July first:
Public institutions of higher education; Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program; notice to students; SNAP benefits. Requires each public institution of higher education to ensure that all students have access to accurate information about the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), including eligibility and how to apply. The bill also directs each institution to advertise the application and process for applying for SNAP prominently on the institution’s website and in orientation materials that are distributed to each new student.