Many California college students face food and housing insecurity.1 CalFresh food benefits, known federally as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, can help students pay for food, but most students eligible for this support are not receiving it. To address the gap between eligibility and participation, the California Policy Lab (CPL) is building a new data system — in partnership with higher education and safety-net agencies in California — to examine the extent to which college students use safety-net benefits to help meet their basic needs, to estimate how benefit receipt affects educational outcomes, and to evaluate strategies designed to increase participation. As part of this portfolio of work, and to better understand the factors that may limit student participation in CalFresh, CPL collaborated with Jesus Chavarin-Rivas, a graduate student at UC Berkeley, to conduct 29 interviews with a selection of students, basic needs specialists, and local and state government representatives in California. While this work2 was not a representative study of college student experiences statewide, it provided an initial picture of common barriers that may warrant further investigation by researchers and program administrators. This preliminary work suggests that some college students may lack awareness about CalFresh, be deterred by stigma and fear of adverse consequences, and face both misinformation about the complicated eligibility criteria for students and complex administrative processes when applying for food benefits.
This work has been supported, in part, by the University of California Multicampus Research Programs and Initiatives grants MRP-19-600774 and M21PR3278.