Community college career and technical education students will be eligible for food assistance benefits in NJ

State officials announced Monday that New Jersey is expanding food assistance to career and technical education students at community colleges.

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, commonly known as SNAP, will be available to students in community college career and technical education programs beginning early next month, officials said at a press conference Monday at Middlesex Community College.

New Jersey Secretary of Higher Education Zakiya Smith Ellis said food insecurity is a hidden challenge of college affordability. Earlier this year, Middlesex County College opened a food pantry for students.

“College affordability is not about more than just tuition and fees,” Smith Ellis said. “Students struggle to pay for living costs as well. In a traditional setting this is often referred to as room and board, but most students don’t live on campus and low-income students still need support to meet these basic needs.”

According to national surveys, almost 40 percent of community college students reporting food insecurity, meaning a lack of reliable access to sufficient quantities of affordable, nutritious food. New Jersey Human Services Commissioner Carole Johnson said the hope is that expanding SNAP eligibility for students and raising awareness about food assistance will alleviate hunger on community college campuses.

“SNAP is the first line of defense against hunger,” Johnson said. “Hunger is often a focus this time of year, but it’s a year-round problem for far too many people, including students who too often are forced to worry about food instead of their studies. Students learning employable skills in New Jersey’s community colleges should not be left behind when it comes to this crucial nutritional assistance program…For many families college affordability includes not just tuition, but ensuring access to essentials like food and child care.”

Middlesex County College Interim President Mark McCormick said students in community colleges often face a myriad of challenges and obstacles that hinder their ability to stay in college and complete a degree. “Initiatives like this one help mitigate potential barriers to students’ success and will make it possible for more community college students to achieve their educational goals,” he said.

“We know that many students face hunger and are forced to make the terrible choice between staying in school and having enough to eat. Now, more New Jersey students can receive SNAP, giving them a much better chance of completing their education and going on to land higher-paying jobs,” said Adele LaTourette, director of Hunger Free New Jersey.

College students can be eligible for SNAP is if they are at least half-time students participating in a state-recognized employment and training program. The Murphy Administration will now recognize all approved career and technical education programs at New Jersey community colleges as eligible SNAP employment and training programs. Students who meet SNAP income eligibility standards and participate in these training programs will now have access to food assistance.

In 2017, 67,000 students were enrolled in these career and technical education programs in New Jersey, with an estimated 45 percent considered low-income based on financial aid records, according to the Council on County Colleges.