The New Jersey Department of Human Services has announced new rules that will allow more hungry college students to receive federal food aid.

We joined the Murphy Administration officials last week to announce the expansion of food assistance to career and technical education students at community colleges — a top priority for Hunger Free New Jersey. This change will benefit an estimated 67,000 college students — many of whom face the terrible choice of continuing their education or putting food on the table.

During a visit to Middlesex County College, which earlier this year opened a food pantry for students, New Jersey Human Services Commissioner Carole Johnson said the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) will be available to students in community college career and technical education programs.

In response to what has been called a hidden crisis on college campuses, Johnson said the Department of Human Services earlier this year met with advocates from Hunger Free New Jersey to discuss how to address food insecurity among college students, expand SNAP eligibility for college students, and raise awareness of food assistance on college campuses.

The Department also engaged with the Council of County Colleges and the Office of the Secretary of Higher Education to increase college student participation in SNAP.

National surveys have found that as high as 40 percent of community college students reporting food insecurity, meaning a lack of reliable access to sufficient quantities of affordable, nutritious food.

“SNAP is the first line of defense against hunger,” Johnson said. “Governor Murphy is committed to building a stronger New Jersey for everyone, including those working to improve their lives through higher education. Hunger is often a focus this time of year, but it’s a year-round problem for far too many people, including students who too often are forced to worry about food instead of their studies. Students learning employable skills in New Jersey’s community colleges should not be left behind when it comes to this crucial nutritional assistance program.”

Johnson noted, “For many families college affordability includes not just tuition, but ensuring access to essentials like food and child care.”

“This Administration is committed to helping New Jersey’s families, whether it’s by investing in access to quality and affordable child care that helps allow students to attend classes or by providing this expanded and vital food assistance for eligible career and technical education students. For many students, these steps will make a tremendous difference.”

“Students in community colleges often face a myriad of challenges and obstacles that hinder their ability to stay in college and complete a degree,” said Middlesex County College Interim President Dr. Mark McCormick. “Initiatives like this one help mitigate potential barriers to students’ success and will make it possible for more community college students to achieve their educational goals.”

“We are thrilled that the Murphy Administration is taking this important step to address hunger among college students,’’ said Adele LaTourette, director, Hunger Free New Jersey. “We know that many students face hunger and are forced to make the terrible choice between staying in school and having enough to eat. Now, more New Jersey students can receive SNAP, giving them a much better chance of completing their education and going on to land higher-paying jobs.’’

One of the ways college students can be eligible for SNAP is if they are at least half-time students participating in a state-recognized employment and training program. The Murphy Administration will now recognize all approved Career and Technical Education Programs at New Jersey community colleges as eligible SNAP employment and training programs.  Students who meet SNAP income eligibility standards and participate in these training programs will now have access to this critical food assistance.

In 2017, 67,000 students were enrolled in these career and technical education programs, with an estimated 45 percent considered low-income based on financial aid records, according to the Council on County Colleges.

The change will be effective in early December.