3 ways to seek emergency aid while in school

Hit by a crisis? Your college and community offer help to cover basics like food, housing, medicine, and more.

It’s a difficult truth that the students who benefit the most from the earning power boost that a college, university, community college, or trade school degree can provide are sometimes the ones facing the greatest financial challenges on their way to that degree. In fact, research shows nearly three out of every five college students face some level of basic needs insecurity, and students of color are more likely to experience it.1

If you’re facing a financial crisis during college and are unable to meet your basic expenses like food, housing, and tuition costs, resources on campus and in your community can help.

These programs are designed to provide emergency aid — if you have an unexpected expense, a loss of income, or a change in your parents’ finances — so you have the support you need to continue with your coursework.

If you find yourself in this situation, consider these three steps to find emergency aid in and around your campus.

1. Start with your financial aid office

The financial aid office is the home base for emergency funds and resources. They will understand the programs available both on campus and in your community — plus, they will be well-versed in the kind of financial aid package you have and the programs that work with your particular situation.

Whether you have student loans already or not, there are emergency grants, loans, and vouchers available, many that are backed by the government and designed to provide emergency support for things like tuition, housing, books, supplies, and transportation. As you review your options, make sure to discuss with your financial aid officer if there are any repayment stipulations you need to know about.

Your financial aid office will also know about other on-campus initiatives, for instance, if certain dorm rooms are set aside for students facing housing insecurity or meal vouchers you can claim. No matter what challenge you may be facing, they’re a good place to start.

And they will have suggestions for other types of help. For example, you may newly qualify for rent assistance, help with your phone or internet service, or low-cost medical care, depending on the nature of the crisis you’re facing. Or they can direct you to nonprofits that specialize in helping people with credit card debt, lack of reliable transportation, or clothing and personal care items.

2. See if you qualify for SNAP food benefits or other community nutrition resources

Out of the 42 million people nationwide receiving SNAP benefits, only about 1.5 million are college students.2 To receive benefits as a college student, you must be in school at least part-time and meet all the same criteria as nonstudents, plus meet at least one of the student-specific qualifications.3

Criteria for all SNAP recipients (you must meet all):

  • Be at or below 130% of the poverty line in your gross monthly income, which is about $1,300 per month for one person or $1,800 for a family of two; in some states, the percentage is as high as 200% of the poverty level
  • Be at or below the poverty line for net income, which is about $13,000 for one person or $17,000 for two
  • Have less than $2,500 in assets

Student-specific qualifications (you must meet at least one):

  • Work at least 20 hours a week or 80 hours per month in paid employment
  • Have a dependent child under age 6 or have trouble securing child care for a child ages 6 – 12
  • Receive cash assistance or services from Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)
  • Be under 17 years old or over 50
  • Be a single parent who is enrolled full-time and is responsible for a dependent child who is age 12 or under
  • Participate in an on-the-job training program
  • Be in school through a state or federally approved employment and training program
  • Have health reasons that reduce or prohibit your ability to work

Temporary student-specific qualifications added during the COVID-19 pandemic (until they expire, you can meet one of these instead of the other student-specific qualifications):

  • Eligible for federal or state-funded work-study programs during the regular school year
  • Have an expected family contribution (EFC) of $0 during the current academic year
  • Receive the full Pell Grant

Right now, only about 40% of eligible students are enrolled in SNAP benefits — but it’s a vital resource for those facing food insecurity. Benefits can be used to buy groceries at virtually any store, and even some farmers markets.

If you’re not eligible for SNAP, check with your student affairs office to see if there are off-campus or on-campus food pantries, meal sharing programs, or other resources you may be able to use.

3. Have your financial aid package adjusted or seek federal aid

Normally, the federal financial aid package you receive is set for the academic year — but if there’s been a significant change between what you submitted on your federal income tax returns and your current financial situation, you may potentially be able to have your aid adjusted.

Again, your school’s financial aid office handles this process, so you’ll work with them directly on your appeal. They aren’t required to make changes to your package, but if you’re facing longer-term financial challenges, such as an unforeseen reduction in income or a sudden increase in medical expenses, they may consider it. You also have the option to work with the financial aid office to apply for federally funded student loans that you can use to help cover your unforeseen expenses.

If you find yourself in need of emergency aid, rest assured that there are resources in and around your college campus designed to help you.

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