BUFFALO (WKBW) When you think of a food stamp recipient, the images of a single mother or someone on the unemployment line come to mind. Not necessarily that of a backpack-clad, greek-letter-wearing college student. But with the struggling economy and rising cost of education, some students have nowhere else to turn, and others are capitalizing on the system.
"Food is expensive and especially with the college meal plans being so high today, and the food isn't so good, I would recommend for somebody to get food stamps," college student Reggie Beneche said.
Each year, as food stamp assistance (now known as SNAP Benefits) is paid out across New York State, millions of dollars in benefits end up in the hands of college students; many who need it and some who simply don't.
The eligibility in Erie County for food stamps is income below twelve hundred dollars per month, or fourteen thousand dollars per year. That means a single household over 18 college student without a full time job qualifies.
There are additional restrictions, but what would stop students who choose to not buy a school meal plan, even if they can afford it, and instead go on food stamps?
"Is it possible for someone to opt out completely and then make the argument that they are eligible for food stamps, perhaps," Erie County Social Services Commissioner Carol Dankert said.
"It makes sense, and it's something that maybe if I was in their position I would think about too. I would take that easy way out if I was able to take government food stamps," college student Daniel Calzadilla said.
"I don't think it's a bad idea. I think the school gets money from you a lot of other ways, so I think they'll be ok," student Alana Kopty added.
Carol Dankert is the Commissioner of the Erie County Department of Social Services, and says most of the 71 thousand cases of food stamps in the county go to those who are most in need, but says students abusing the system is a larger problem, for the state.
"The guidelines were set down believing that they would be sufficient, and if we find out that someone is doing a workaround or someone has found a way to manipulate the system, then we would want to surface that to the state, and have to the state take a look at that," Dankert said.
Our calls to the Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance in Albany were not returned as workers deal with the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, but the idea of students opting for food stamps when they can afford a college meal plan met large scale disapproval among fellow students.
"I don't by any means think that people should take advantage of the system. I think you're in college to learn the value of hard work," college senior Brian Alexander said.
"There's people out there that don't have it that deserve it more than a college student who could possibly find a way," Anja Bandulj added.
"I think it's wrong because they're taking away from the people that really need it," student Hugh Brown commented.
"We want them to be appropriately administered and for those benefits to go to those who are truly in need and categorically eligible," Carol Dankert added.
And if there is a problem, the solution would have to come from New York State; something Carol Dankert is not opposed to.
"I also believe very strongly that policy needs to be somewhat fluid, and if you determine that we have a new loophole or problem, it is our job to make sure that we let the state know and advocate for change," Dankert said.