Guaranteed college financial aid coming to WA students on food assistance

Monday, April 29, 2024

By Grace Deng
Washington State Standard

Students from families on Washington’s food assistance programs will soon automatically qualify for financial aid to attend college.

That’s due to a new state law, House Bill 2214, that guarantees state financial aid for students enrolled in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, known as SNAP for short and sometimes called food stamps. The law calls for the automatic tuition aid to be available by the 2025-26 school year.

“If you’re looking for the one program that connects the largest number of low-income households in the state, it would be SNAP,” said Michael Meotti, executive director of the Washington Student Achievement Council, which introduced the idea to lawmakers.

HB 2214 is the first law of its kind in the country, Meotti said.

In Washington, SNAP is called Basic Food. Generally, a household must be at or below 200% of the federal poverty level to qualify. That’s $60,000 a year for a household of four.

For legal immigrants who don’t qualify for SNAP, the state runs the Food Assistance Program. Households in that program will also automatically qualify for college financial aid.

The funds will come from the Washington College Grant, which already allows the state to offer more need-based financial aid to students than anywhere else in the country.

A ‘game-changer’

Meotti called the law a “game-changer,” because it will allow students to start planning for their futures without having to worry about what will happen if they don’t win scholarships or qualify for financial aid.

“Washington has this hugely generous state financial aid program,” Meotti said, referring to the Washington College Grant. “We can tell you about it, but you won’t know if you’re getting it until the spring of your senior year in high school.”

High school students often give up on higher education early on, Meotti said, for reasons including the high cost of tuition. Meotti hopes guaranteeing financial aid will encourage more students to pursue college and see that it’s an obtainable goal.

Financial aid applications can also be complex and hard to understand, especially for first-generation students whose families don’t have a history of applying.

Washington officials want students to continue to apply for federal aid regardless if they will automatically qualify for state aid, but hope that guaranteeing aid will help remove the barriers that come with financial aid applications.

Guaranteed college financial aid coming for WA for students on food assistance How will it work?

Starting in 10th grade, students eligible for food assistance will receive one year of free college tuition. If the student is still enrolled in food aid programs by 11th grade, they’ll receive two years of free college, and so on, for upwards of three years of free college.

While the fourth year isn’t covered, Meotti said that students will be able to get a free ride if they apply for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, commonly referred to as the FAFSA. By then, Meotti hopes students will have the resources they need to apply.

The Washington Student Achievement Council is still hammering out details of how the program will work. The council is also recruiting partners to help them figure out how best to reach students.

They’re also still trying to figure out how to make sure families know that the program isn’t too good to be true — Meotti pointed to how skeptical families are when they hear about free community college programs like Seattle Promise.

“We want to be very savvy about how to make sure we don’t stimulate that kind of reaction,” Meotti said.


Anonymous,  April 29, 2024 at 7:34 AM  

What excellent news!!!
Knowledge is Power

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