For thousands of students enrolled in Washington’s community and technical colleges, it’s not just homework and studying they worry about. For them, it’s more basic: they need help paying for things like food, school supplies, books, child care and housing. Now, more help is here.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture recently approved Washington’s proposal to allow low-income students in a wider range of certificate, degree and industry-recognized programs to receive food assistance through the state’s Basic Food Employment and Training Program, or BFET, provided they meet all the other eligibility criteria. Previously, this support was available only to income-eligible students enrolled in vocational programs or basic skills classes, severely limiting the number of students potentially eligible for BFET.
Once students qualify for food assistance and enroll in the BFET program, they receive other benefits like tuition assistance, job-search services and financial help for basic needs like school supplies, books, child care, housing, utilities, medical bills and clothing.
The BFET program expansion support is even more important now as the coronavirus pandemic worsens hunger for college students across the country. Before the economic downturn, a February report by the Hope Center for College, Community and Justice at Temple University showed six in 10 Washington community and technical college students experienced hunger or housing insecurity in the previous year, even though most were working.
“BFET helped me get through my associate degree,” an Olympic College alumnus said. “I also had trouble when the pandemic first started….You always made me feel important. You never made me feel like I was ‘less than’ for receiving [food assistance].”
Customized Support for Every Student
The BFET program provides tailored training and education in support of students receiving Basic Food support as they work toward a living-wage career. This support includes:
- Up to 365 days of retention services after employment.
- English language instruction.
- Personal assessment and career planning.
- Tuition assistance applied to a vocational certificate or non-transfer associate degree.
- Adult education for foundational skills in reading, writing and math.
- GED® preparation, high school completion and Running Start support for 16 and 17-year-olds, regardless if they’re receiving benefits through their parents or on their own.
- Case management.
- Job search help.
- Support services for tuition, educational supplies, books, childcare, housing, utilities, personal hygiene, medical/dental/vision, clothing, tools and other job related expenses.
“The BFET program has helped me achieve my dreams of becoming a welder,” said an Olympic College student. “The program has helped me and my family in paying for the very expensive welding gear and books that are needed for this degree. I know that every little bit counts and has lifted a huge burden off my shoulders to focus on school. I am very appreciative of the BFET program and how it has helped me achieve my dreams.”
On average, over 10,000 community and technical college students participate in the BFET program every year. With the expanded BFET program, thousands more community and technical college students will get the help they need to overcome barriers and graduate.
“It helped me get lined up with Washington state assistance, as I am a single mom and live 2.5 hours from campus, helped with emergency funding due to COVID-19,” said one Walla Walla Community College student.
Public-Private Partnership Creating Impressive Results
The BEFT program is the state’s name for the employment and training piece of the federal government’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, known as Basic Food in Washington state. The program is a public-private partnership that packages together state, local and private educational funds to leverage matching funds from the federal government. This stretches dollars further, allowing more students to be served.
BFET services are delivered through a partnership of the state Department of Social and Health Services, the State Board for Community and Technical Colleges, Employment Security Department, three tribal entities and more than 40 community-based organizations. DSHS and the State Board teamed up with the Washington Student Achievement Council to bring additional awareness about postsecondary student food insecurity.
The BFET program yields impressive results. Since 2005, BFET has served more than 90,000 Washington residents. According to DSHS, two years after exiting BFET, 60% of participants are employed with a median hourly wage of $14.44, above the state’s $12 minimum wage.
“BFET felt like a warm hug and it was as if the faculty involved literally put me under their wing and helped me in every way they possibly could,” said one Walla Walla Community College student.