A Fordham graduate student’s research is impacting policy around food benefits for young people.

This fall in Arizona, advocates used a research report from Alexander Meyer, a Fordham student in the international political economy and development graduate program, to get the state to change its policy around SNAP benefits for community college students.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, access to a food assistance benefit called SNAP—Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program—was expanded.

By analyzing data from the Arizona Department of Economic Security, Meyer found that during this time, there was at least a 22% increase in Arizona college students accessing this benefit.

“My primary research question was, is there a population of college students that is in need, but is cut off from accessing SNAP because of too-stringent eligibility requirements?” said Meyer, who is from Arizona.

“The answer to that question is there is indeed a large population of college students in need of SNAP.”

Expanding Access

Across the country, about one in five college students face food insecurity, according to data from the U.S. Department of Education.

Alexander Meyer

In order to qualify for SNAP—outside of the pandemic emergency—applicants must meet federal income guidelines. In addition, “able-bodied” adults also have a work requirement, which can include everything from having a job to being in a career training program. Being a student in traditional colleges and universities, however, usually does not make them eligible, so many students can’t access the benefits unless they also work part time.

During the pandemic, that requirement changed and college students became eligible. But when the emergency declaration ended in the spring of 2023, those expanded benefits went away, leaving many college students facing food insecurity issues again, Meyer said.

In stepped the Arizona Food Bank Network, where Meyer once worked and still maintains connections. The organization advocated for college students, or at a minimum, community college students, to maintain their access to SNAP.

“Hunger and food insecurity on college campuses is a growing issue across the nation,” a memo from the Food Bank Network, which cited Meyer’s paper, read. “Increased food insecurity and decreased education levels can have detrimental and long-lasting effects not only to individuals but also to the health and economic well-being of communities as a whole.”

Their work, backed up by Meyer’s paper, helped convince Arizona’s Department of Economic Security to count community college as a career training program, which allows students at those schools to satisfy the work requirement.

Next Steps

For Andrew Simons, Ph.D., associate professor of economics, seeing his student’s work—which started in his applied econometrics course last fall—be used to change state policy is a huge achievement.

“Some part of me wants to say this is the goal, but this is far exceeding the expectation,” he said. “You always want your research to be influencing the world.”

Simons and Meyer are doing a bit more analysis and work on the paper with a goal of getting it officially published in an academic journal. They’re also continuing the research, with a plan to look at the next set of data from 2023.

“We can analyze what that drop-off looks like and use that to further bolster our findings, saying, ‘You allowed this temporary exemption to allow more students to qualify for SNAP. Participation went up, and then you took it away, and participation went back down,’” Meyer said.

Meyer said he’s proud that his work had an impact, and that he hopes his research can be used to expand eligibility for all college students in Arizona and support similar policy changes in other states.

“Frankly it’s a dream—who doesn’t want to contribute via their research to expanding policy that in a very real way will touch tens of thousands of college students, making sure they have food to eat, and via that food, that they can thrive in their studies,” Meyer said.

At Fordham, students can participate in the meal swipe donation program, where students with extra meal swipes can donate them and students who are facing food insecurity issues can access additional meal swipes through campus ministry. In addition, students facing food insecurity-related challenges can reach out to staff in student affairs, campus ministry, financial aid, or their dean’s office for additional resources.