What Do Students Have to Say About Accessing SNAP Benefits?

We recently spoke with students about accessing SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) benefits and the SNAP Employment & Training (E&T) program. We discussed the stigma associated with being on SNAP and how it could be reduced through intentional messaging. What intrigued us was the variety of messaging options proposed by students, many of which were shaped and influenced by their values and unique experiences. Below are some highlights.

  • A subset of returning adult students described the need to overcome “feeling like a failure.” “Failure” meant accessing government assistance that they did not think they should need. They also described the shame they felt when using their SNAP EBT cards, and how this shame could deter people from accessing SNAP even if they needed food assistance. To overcome this obstacle, they suggested highlighting what students could gain by accessing SNAP and the SNAP E&T program—such as the ability to learn new skills and find satisfying work in which they could take pride. They also recommended framing SNAP and SNAP E&T as temporary supports to achieve their longer-term plans and goals.
  • Students in leadership positions and younger age groups focused primarily on promoting equitable access to SNAP benefits. When discussing how to communicate about SNAP, they suggested using straightforward messaging that framed access to food as a basic human right—for example: “no one should be hungry, neither should you” and “you don’t have to be hungry!”
  • Students across age groups emphasized the importance of highlighting that SNAP benefits were available to all eligible individuals, pointing to a need to counter the (incorrect) assumption that accessing SNAP benefits would somehow take SNAP resources away from others who might need them more. It was helpful, they said, to see messaging that indicated that the SNAP program was designed to meet the needs of all who qualify.

Our Takeaways

The variety of messaging proposed by these student groups reminds us that solution design—and in this case, messaging design—cannot be one size fits all. However, as the third bullet point indicates, we can often discover themes that resonate across the larger student body. These larger themes exist alongside the variation—and good solution design takes both aspects into account.

This is why listening to students is such a critical component of our work. The better we understand student needs—both universal and individual—the better we can design solutions that meet these needs. Listening to students—truly listening and centering their voices—is one of the best ways we know of to ensure that we capture the information that we need to design for impact and ensure that solutions account for and embrace student diversity.