News23ABC In-Depth


Changes to SNAP eligibility leave some students worried about their next meal

According to the United States Department of Education, one out of every 3 American college students is experiencing food insecurity.
Posted: 6:07 PM, Jul 19, 2023
Updated: 2023-07-19 23:23:39-04
renegade food pantry

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KERO) — The Renegade Pantry at Bakersfield College offers full meals, snacks, household and hygiene items, and even clothing, to all students on campus. One of those students, Carlos Ramirez, who has experienced food insecurity firsthand and now works as the coordinator for the Renegade Pantry, says students need the pantry now more than ever, as some of them have lost their Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits due to a change in how the state determines eligibility.

"It doesn't matter how hard you're trying, you're thinking, 'Dang, I just finished this 3-page essay… I don't know where my next meal is going to come from.' That is not only really depressing, but it makes it feel like all this effort is kind of for nothing," said Ramirez.

At the age of 16, Ramirez began working to help provide for his family, who had immigrated to the U.S. from Mexico. Eventually, he began attending Bakersfield College as a computer science major. He says in his first year at school, he would spend 10 hours on campus, which meant he often couldn't work enough hours to afford food. Ramirez says the lack of nutrition seriously impacted his academic performance.

"If I didn't get a meal, I would start getting grumpy, or I would start not being able to focus as well, so whenever I managed to actually get a meal within that 10-hour period, even if it was just a pizza slice or a little bagel from here, I could see myself being able to focus just a little bit better," said Ramirez.

Caitlyn Davidson, the program manager for Basic Needs at the pantry, says the expanded eligibility rules that came with the pandemic allowed students to buy groceries at a time when many people lost their jobs. Students already receiving SNAP benefits needed to recertify by June 30 to stay in the program, but with the government declaring an end to the covid emergency, that expanded eligibility will revert to the pre-pandemic eligibility standards.

In a statement to 23ABC, Jana Slagle with CalFresh says these temporary waivers of student eligibility criteria ended on June 10 for new CalFresh applicants and July 1 for renewing CalFresh recipients. Students aged 18 to 49 who are actively enrolled in an institution of higher learning at least half-time must meet existing exemption criteria in order to qualify for CalFresh, in addition to meeting the program's income requirements.

Davidson says she's already seen the impacts of these changes.

"Not as many students are on campus during the summertime, but this year our pantry has consistently stayed busy. Before we would see maybe a few hundred people a week. Right now, we're consistently seeing between 5 to 6 hundred people per week," said Davidson.

In response to increased student needs, BC offers resources at the pantry and holds a farmer's market on the third Thursday of every month, distributing the fresh fruits and vegetables that would ordinarily be too expensive.

Ramirez says that after he learned about the Renegade Food Pantry from a friend, he jumped at the opportunity to work there, helping people like himself, as well as assisting them in applying for any additional benefits they may qualify for.

"All of that, again, just feels really good," said Ramirez. "Coming from someone who was once the kind of person who needed this kind of assistance to now being able to provide it was just very fulfilling."

If you are experiencing food insecurity, please visit BenefitsCal to find out if you qualify for benefits through CalFresh, CalWORKs, Medi-Cal, or other state assistance programs.


The issue of food insecurity for college students has many major impacts across the board, from slipping grades and impaired academic performance to impacts on a student's mental health. According to the U.S. Department of Education, one in three American college students experience food insecurity.

An in-depth study completed in 2016 by the National Student Campaign Against Hunger and Homelessness found that 15 percent of food-insecure students also reported experiencing some form of homelessness as well.

55 percent of students impacted by food insecurity reported being forced to choose between food and class materials, including required textbooks. 53 percent reported missing a class, and 25 percent reported dropping a class altogether due to the various impacts food insecurity had on their learning and their lives.