BC’s starving students

Chris Toomey/The Watchdog
Chris Toomey/The Watchdog

Every day he wears the same tan shorts and a green bandana, his handlebar mustache a dead giveaway. Rain or hail, he sports a smile and  waves at every passerby he meets on his way around campus. But come lunch, you won’t find Bellevue College student Shadow Jones* buying food in the cafeteria, nor anywhere on campus for that matter. Jones is like more than 500 other students at BC; he’s on food stamps as provided by the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, and makes his purchases with an EBT card. But BC doesn’t have an EBT terminal.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture administers SNAP at the federal level via the Food and Nutrition Service even though the local programs are administered by the states, and the federal guidelines are explicit.

SNAP recipients cannot use their benefits to buy beer, wine, liquor, cigarettes or tobacco, they cannot use the card for vitamins or medicine and they cannot use it to buy food that will be eaten in the store.

“I can buy prepared foods as long as they’re cold, just no hot foods,” said Jones, “but as things currently are at BC, I can’t buy any food at all.”

Because BC has no EBT terminal on campus, students on EBT cards must interrupt their studies every day and head for the QFC a mile down the road on SE 16th St and 145th Pl SE to buy food, or else pay extra for the “convenience” of shopping at a gas station’s convenience store.

“When I don’t have enough time between classes and have no other choice, I’ll hike to the gas station near the entrance to campus,” said Jones, “but that ‘convenience’ wipes out my budget for the rest of my meals for the day because everything at a gas station costs more.”

Given a $200 allotment per month, those on food stamps must learn to feed themselves on just $6.67 per day.  “It’s possible; you learn to be efficient or you risk going without” said Jones. “I really do consider myself lucky to be in the shape I am because I know others who aren’t as lucky.”

Nutrition has long been linked to strong academic success, but students on food stamps are denied that opportunity by BC not having an EBT terminal. This begs the question of why neither BC nor any other school in the nation has an EBT terminal on campus.

As legislation currently stands, school cafés and cafeterias are considered no different than a local restaurant, thus they are inellgible for the SNAP program and the installation of an EBT terminal.

“We have all the foods from all the categories we need to qualify,” said Jones, “we just need to come together and collaborate to find a way. Sometimes solutions require thinking outside of the box.”

Should BC succeed in obtaining an EBT terminal on campus, it would be the first of its kind, and the college would from there on provide a model for every other school in the nation.

“I see a tremendous opportunity…the opportunity to rethink our socio-economic constructs in a new light…to serve members of the college community that we have not been able to serve in the past,” said Assistant Dean of Student Programs Faisal Jaswal. “Acceptance of EBT cards on campus opens doors for folks in a myriad of ways, and breaks down social barriers…and seize[s] the opportunity to illuminate a path for colleges and universities in other communities to do the same.”

Jones, Jaswal, Interim Vice President of Student Services Ata Karim and Vice President of Administrative Services Ray White met on March 20 to discuss the potential of putting forth a SNAP application so as to obtain an EBT terminal on campus.

“As they say, nothing ventured nothing gained,” said an FNS correspondent in Portland. “The worst thing that can happen is you would be denied with an explanation of why.”

Should BC decide to put forth an application and be denied, the school will be provided with the aforementioned explanation of why, and then have six months to make the necessary changes before they can re-apply.

BC expects to hear an announcement of the schools decision this week.


*Name has been changed.