Photo of a group of young adults sitting around a table talking.

Like many other college seniors, I am living off campus and providing food for myself, without my parents or a college meal plan, for the first time in my life. Dealing with the growing cost of sufficient, nutritious food is an issue that I believe many students can relate to. Being a full-time college student and also working to make money to feed yourself means an added layer of difficulty. Food insecurity among college students is a serious and often overlooked issue, and many students struggle to support themselves while living independently.

It was not until I joined the team at Chauncey’s Cupboard, the Champlain College food pantry, that I discovered  I qualified for 3SquaresVT food benefits through my work study eligibility! I figured that going through this application process would help me pay for my groceries, and I could use the experience to spread awareness to my fellow students about their food access options. The application process was long, complicated, and involved a lot of waiting on hold with the Vermont Department of Children and Families. I was lucky to have our student resources coordinator with me to walk me through the overwhelming process. I was also fortunate enough throughout this process to be housed and not in any sort of mental or physical health crisis. Lastly, I had the time in between classes, during business hours, to spend three hours on hold with the Economic Services Division (ESD) so I could complete the required interview.

By the time I had completed the entire process of: application, interview, and submission of verification documents, and was close to receiving my 3SquaresVT benefits, my income had increased. I was hired at a local homeless shelter, and this new job marks the first step in my post-graduate career! As exciting as the job is, it disqualified me from receiving the benefits that I had worked towards for weeks. In my specific situation, I was no longer eligible because I no longer held a work-study position. Although I now hold a more stable position with more hours and a slightly higher income than a work-study role, I am still feeling the same pressure on my budget due to the high cost of living.

This is a frightening and stressful reality for many of us who apply for and would benefit from the support of programs like 3SquaresVT. The very supports that are in place to help keep college students afloat while we strive to make a better life for ourselves have long, complicated, and stressful application processes. Furthermore, once an applicant  inches over the income eligibility limit, benefits are terminated.  Yet, even though a student may experience this benefits termination, they may still not have enough money to buy food and may be left in a state of food insecurity, despite making a little bit more money. This effect is called “the benefits cliff.” This “cliff” is a divide between people who are eligible for benefits, and those who are not. It is defined by one dollar difference in income! Just because one person makes a few dollars more than another, does not mean they necessarily have enough money to buy food. The “cliff” may keep people from advancing in their careers, as the immediate drawbacks from dropping off of that “cliff” outweigh the future stability of working one’s way up the ladder. In other words, a person may have to choose to decline the opportunity that will advance their career and ability to be financially secure in the future, in favor of staying on benefits now so they can reliably feed themselves in the moment. That job may bump them over the eligibility “cliff,” yet not actually pay them enough to be able to afford food!

Although I never ended up receiving 3SquaresVT benefits, I am still glad to have gone through the application process. I am happy to know that the option is there should I, or my peers, become eligible. And I am proud to act as an educational resource and an advocate for other college students who experience food insecurity. I want to emphasize  that every college student’s situation is different. If you are a student, you may be eligible for benefits. The policies that govern eligibility for 3SquaresVT are complex and you may be eligible even if you think you are not. Even if your situation sounds similar to mine, it could be just slightly different enough to make you eligible! It’s always worth asking. There are support systems in place to help you navigate the eligibility and application process. If you would like to learn more, click here to contact a resource specialist at the Vermont Foodbank— they can answer questions, screen for eligibility, or assist with an application! Or, call (855) 855-6181, text VFBSNAP to 85511, or email 3svt@vtfoodbank.org.

* Photo has been substituted to respect the privacy of the author.

  • Online ordering with SNAP benefits can make it easier for people to purchase nourishing food from wherever they may be.

  • My journey applying for and obtaining 3SquaresVT was not easy. The initial application took me about two hours to complete. I have a lot of experience navigating complex tasks and applications, yet I found this application to be particularly confusing and long.

  • On Tuesday, January 30th a group of advocates and community members met at the Statehouse in Montpelier for SNAP Awareness Day—a day to educate Vermont leaders and policy makers on the importance and suggested improvements to SNAP, a federal food security program known as 3SquaresVT here in Vermont. SNAP Awareness Day goes beyond raising awareness about SNAP as a stand-alone program.