Help on the way for more hungry college students
OLYMPIA — As the coronavirus worsens hunger for college students across the United States, thousands more community and technical college students in Washington state will receive food benefits.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture recently approved Washington’s proposal to allow low-income students in a wider range of certificate, degree and industry-recognized programs to receive food assistance through the state’s Basic Food Employment and Training Program, or BFET, provided they meet all the other eligibility criteria. Previously, this support was available only to income-eligible students enrolled in vocational programs or basic skills classes, severely limiting the number of students potentially eligible for BFET.
Once students qualify for food assistance and enroll in the BFET program, they receive other benefits like tuition assistance, job-search services and financial help for basic needs like school supplies, books, child care, housing, utilities, medical bills and clothing.
“Now more than ever, people need education and training to make it through these tough economic times and land good jobs on the other side,” said Cheryl Strange, Secretary of the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services. “Our state will be able to help many more people learn skills and get a college credential by helping to remove struggles over food and basic needs.”
In February, a report came out showing that six out of 10 community or technical college students in Washington reported experiencing hunger or housing insecurity over the prior year, even though most of them were working. And that was before the widespread economic hardship caused by the coronavirus.
“Our students are sleeping in cars, crashing on couches, holding down jobs and getting food from pantries and food banks to make their way through college, because they know that a college education will improve their lives,” said Jan Yoshiwara, executive director of the State Board for Community and Technical Colleges. “This expansion will make a world of difference for all our current students and the many students who will be headed our way to reskill and retrain for a new economy.”
BFET is the state’s name for the employment and training component of the federal government’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, known as Basic Food in Washington state. It is a public-private partnership that packages together state, local and private educational funds to leverage matching funds from the federal government. This stretches dollars further, allowing more students to be served.
BFET services are delivered through a partnership of the state Department of Social and Health Services, the State Board for Community and Technical Colleges, Employment Security Department, three tribal entities and more than 40 community-based organizations. DSHS and the State Board teamed up with the Washington Student Achievement Council to bring additional awareness about postsecondary student food insecurity.
Michael Meotti, executive director of the Washington Student Achievement Council, said the expanded study options in the BFET program dovetails well with a new financial aid program approved by the Legislature in 2019. The Washington College Grant provides financial aid to more low- and middle-income families for more kinds of programs.
“People deserve to have access to a wide range of career pathways so they can choose the right fit for their skills and goals,” said Meotti. “Education past high school is the ticket to a well-paying job, whether it’s in the form of a certificate, two-year degree, four-year degree or an apprenticeship. All paths lead to a better future.”
On average, over 10,000 community and technical college students receive BFET assistance each school year.