KGW: PSU to give more help to students in need
Author: Christine Pitawanich
Posted: December 27, 2019

To view the original story, visit KGW.

Have you ever had to choose between buying a school text book or groceries?

Some college students are in a situation where they have to make that choice.

But a new grant at Portland State University is focused on helping students who, on top of all their school work, are already in a tough spot.

The school is getting $277,000 to help students with things like transportation, clothing, and childcare costs or expenses that come up while they're searching for jobs.

It’s thanks to the government food assistance program, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

“I think it's super discouraging to have three jobs and at the end of that have to your tuition and not be able to pay for like your food,” said Violet Gibson, who is the student body president and a senior at the school.

“Most students would rather kind of starve than talk about it,” said Motutama Sipelii, another senior in student leadership.

We spoke with students who say college is more expensive than ever. Bobby Smallwood, who is a student at PSU and also helps run the food pantry, says there’s a lot of need on campus.

“This is a university where 42% of students do experience food insecurity,” he said.

But now PSU has one more way to help students who need it.

“This specific SNAP grant will help students who receive SNAP benefits to have additional support,” said Michelle Toppe, PSU Vice Provost for Student Affairs.

While community colleges in Washington, and several in Oregon already have the same federal grant, PSU being added to the list holds special significance.

“We are the first four-year institution, we understand in the country, to receive this grant,” Toppe said.

Smallwood and other students we spoke with say they believe the new grant will greatly benefit students on campus and reduce the stigma associated with asking for help.

Smallwood knows from personal experience that there are a lot of students who do need the extra help.

“I started out waiting in line for the food pantry,” said Smallwood.

“The only place where you can cut money is your food budget,” he added.

When you've got to cut your food budget to get by, it’s much harder to focus on schoolwork.

But at least now, for some students, the added help means freedom to focus on their education.

PSU has hired on a new case manager dedicated to helping the roughly 50 students who will get help through the grant once January rolls around.

The grant money renews every year. But after this year, the federal government will pay out half of the $277,000 and the school will have to fundraise to pay for the other half.