UPDATE (Jan. 31, 2012): Here are the requirements for college students in Georgia wanting to receive food stamps, such as a requirement that the student must be working at a job at least 20 hours a week, in addition to fulfilling graduation requirements: click here.
ATLANTA (Jan. 30, 2012) -- Georgia's college students are facing the prospect of the HOPE Scholarship paying less and less toward their tuition in the next few years.
So how are they dealing with rising tuition and fees?
Many are working whatever part-time jobs they can rustle up, mornings, nights and weekends. But they're also tapping into an unconventional form of student financial aid: food stamps.
The "Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program" is providing college students who qualify with $200 a month toward their groceries, making them part of the 20 percent of Georgia's population currently receiving the benefit.
Not all college students qualify for food stamps under Georgia's rules. And late Monday afternoon, a spokeswoman with the Georgia Department of Human Services was looking up, at the request of 11Alive News, the latest numbers that show exactly how many college students statewide are on food stamps, now.
But it is an open secret on the campuses that increasing numbers of students are going straight to the state and applying, which is perfectly legal. And the colleges and universities are not involved at all.
"A few of my friends are on it, I haven't applied for it yet," said Robert Taylor, a sophomore at Georgia State University in Downtown Atlanta. "But I was going to [apply], just because they said it's a big help."
"With the budget cuts, students are definitely going to have to think of different ways to get money and finances for things such as groceries," said Danielle Ford, a GSU Junior. "So food stamps will definitely be a big help, absolutely. Without food stamps, they wouldn't be able to eat."
Taylor is a full-time student with a part-time job.
"As a full-time student, my bill usually comes up to about almost $5,000 a semester. That's tuition alone," he said.
On top of that are his books and fees and his rent for an off-campus apartment, which is $600 a month.
One of the reasons he moved out of a campus dorm, Taylor said, is that GSU was requiring him to pay, in addition to his room cost, about $1,700 a semester for the university's meal plan.
Now, living off-campus and buying his own groceries, he understands why students are tapping into the SNAP program.
"I mean, I think it helps," said Taylor, "because these are students that I know that [like me] are working, like, jobs! And they're really tight on money. These are people who actually really, really need it, and they tell me it's a big help."
Last year, Michigan cut 30,000 students from its food stamp rolls by tightening up the requirements for approval, in order to save $75 million a year.
Some states, like Michigan, tightly restrict food stamps that college students who qualify are allowed to receive, while other states promote the program and encourage college students to apply.
11Alive News expects to find out the latest figures on Tuesday indicating how much money Georgia is paying students for food stamps, which is in addition to their state and federal financial aid.
[ED. NOTE Jan. 31, 2012: Late Tuesday afternoon a spokeswoman with the Georgia Department of Human Services said the department was still compiling the information on how many college students are on food stamps in Georgia.]