For an increasing number of students, food stamps have become a necessity for living.
“I went to the government for help with groceries when I was pregnant,” said Mel Sundquist, a student at UVU who is on the WIC program. “WIC is a supplement – it does not provide enough food for your entire diet. But it does pay for a good amount of healthy food each month, including eggs, milk, beans, and nutritious cereals.”
While there is no information available on how many students on campus receive food stamps, there is information on how many recipients there are per zip code. For example, within UVU’s own zip code, which is 84058, the numbers of people on food stamps have grown from 543 people in 2007, to 623 in 2008, to 950 in 2009—a substantial increase that has occurred statewide. Naturally, as these numbers rise, so does the number of students applying as well.
The food stamp programs, such as WIC, can be a great relief to students like Sundquist who attend school while also working and raising children.Yet it hardly makes for a rosy picture. For one, recent economic pressures have been putting a strain on the availability of these resources, with the result being the many who apply are forced through a litany of hoops and are easily disqualified for even a minor mess up in paperwork. Additionally, those receiving government assistance report that they often feel belittled and misunderstood.
“I dislike the attitude of some of the people who work at WIC,” Sundquist said. “I’ve often felt looked down on. Many of the workers assume that those who need aid are uneducated, which is often not the case at all.”
Another student on WIC said she dislikes the stereotype surrounding women on food stamps, which she says portrays them chain smoking, drinking, junk-food eating individuals with unsupervised children. Yet, this is hardly the case. As she put it, “I live simply, work hard and attend classes, and when I’m not taking care of my home and my three children, I’m doing my homework.”
Yet, despite the spike in food stamp dispersal, qualifying is still difficult if you are a single student with no children who still needs assistance. In order to be able to be able to be considered, one must be a full-time student and also work at least twenty hours a week. If these conditions are met, and it’s deemed that the student merits the assistance, then one can still get food stamps. These same students, if unable to fulfill these requirements, face a tough situation.
But one Social and Welfare Services employee who wished to retain anonymity said that many still obtain food stamps simply by not mentioning that they are students.
“If someone applies for food stamps and doesn’t tell us they are a student, then they wouldn’t have to meet exemptions,” said the source. “We have no way to verify whether or not they are students.”
This source indicated that although there are likely a number of individuals qualifying for assistance by not reporting their student status it is somewhat understandable considering the plight some of them are in. With budget cuts underway for 2010, we can expect that more students may find the need to apply for aid in this manner. This is ill advised, however, as it constitutes fraud and anyone doing so could face felony charges.
Whatever one’s thoughts are on food stamps, the number of recipients will probably continue to rise for some time. Given today’s economic climate, they have become necessary for many even at our university to get their basic sustenance needs met.
“Without financial help from the government, my little family wouldn’t exist,” Sundquist said. “I hear a lot of complaints about what the government is doing wrong, but when it comes down to it I owe my happiness and my daughter’s security to their aid programs. “