For nearly a year now Bellevue College has been targeting hunger relief on campus by pursuing the necessary means to obtain an EBT terminal on campus. The goal is to allow recipients of EBT Food benefits, commonly known as ”food stamps,” the ability to access food on campus whereas before they’ve had none.
There are two forms of EBT benefits. Food assistance benefit recipients are allotted $200 per month to purchase qualified foods only as outlined by the Department of Social and Health Sciences. This allows a recipient $6.67 per day to feed themselves. The second form is Cash assistance benefits through which recipients are allotted $200 per month to spend on food, housing, utilities and other basic living expenses as outlined by the DSHS. In order for a retailer to process purchases made by an EBT recipient, their point of sale machines must be set up to accept EBT benefits.
Food assistance is managed at the federal level while Cash assistance benefits are managed at the state level. According to Valerie Vertz, EBT Security and retail program manager for the Washington Department of Social and Health Services, any retailer may accept EBT Cash assistance benefits at their own discrepancy. Green River Community College in Auburn, Wash., recently began accepting EBT Cash assistance benefits as a form of payment in their cafeteria last spring.
In order to process Food assistance benefits, retailers must successfully submit an application to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program as overseen by the Food and Nutrition Service under the federal United States Department of Agriculture. Since April of this year, BC has submitted three SNAP applications and has been rejected all three times. Overseeing the SNAP application process was Director of Food Services Todd Juvrud and Vice President of Administrative Services Ray White.
“All three were declined and the reason given was [FNS] didn’t know how to deal with the request because this is not what EBT was designed for … we didn’t fit, we didn’t have the right information, [and] we don’t have the right facilities,” said White.
“What we’re trying to do is not what the card is designed to provide … we actually got in contact with [Vertz] who confirmed [this].”
“[We don’t qualify] because we’re not a grocery store.”
One of the cited problems with the college’s application was the presence of a dining area on the same premises that food was available for purchase.
“Wherever you buy [food with EBT Food assistance] you cannot consume it on the same property that you buy the product,” said Juvrud. “EBT is designed to buy items, put it together, make a product, then you can eat.”
“I think we’re at a dead end, I think that the administration has done all that I can see that we’re able to do. To pursue it further, I would suggest that students take a look at how can we change the rules because the rules don’t allow for what we’re doing,” said White.
However, Vertz acknowledged that a student run grocery store could qualify for SNAP and become an EBT Food assistance benefits retailer as long as there wasn’t an eating area present.
The college remains without any POS machines on campus that can process purchases made by either EBT Food assistance or Cash assistance recipients. Without the ability to process EBT purchases, recipients must travel off campus in order to purchase food at the nearest qualified EBT retailer. This policy has come under criticism as it often requires students to interrupt their studies.
However, in a step forward towards fighting hunger throughout the BC college community, BC’s Food Services has expanded its Interim EBT Complementary Food Offering Program to include more food choices.
The program, originally rolled out over summer quarter, allows recipients of EBT assistance benefits to once a day visit the cafeteria and receive free of charge their choice of qualified foods. The available options now include a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, a grilled cheese sandwich on whole wheat, a stuffed ham and cheese sandwich, baby carrots with ranch dressing, sliced apples and/or a cup of soup. Recipients will be given the option to choose a sandwich with soup, soup with carrots and apple slices or a sandwich with carrots and apples.
“During the summer [the program] was getting eight uses per day,” said Juvrud. After calculating for the increase in student population during fall quarter, that number is expected to rise. “It turned out to be roughly 50 people per day if it stayed on the same path,” said Juvrud.
To qualify for the Interim EBT Complementary Food Offering Program, recipients must display an EBT card and Bellevue College ID at the cashier. Names and personal information are not collected and beyond possible security cameras, pictures are not taken.
While this program allows recipients of EBT access to food they would otherwise not have, there has been criticism by students of its exclusivity. Several student populations, perhaps most notably undocumented students, would benefit from such a program but do not qualify for EBT assistance.
To this effect, ASG Environmental and Social Responsibility Representative Alex Clark is spearheading an effort to start an on-campus food pantry.
“I think there’s a lot of power in having an inclusive place on campus where people don’t have to go off campus to get food because that itself is very marginalizing,” said Clark.
By partnering with distribution points in the state such as Seattle Feeding Program, much like food banks do, this would provide BC with the opportunity to offer hunger aid to those in need, including not just those who don’t qualify for EBT, but those who do as well. Clark also sees the operation and management of the food pantry as an opportunity for students to volunteer and get involved within the community.