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For the first time, UW-Madison accepts food stamps

Image By: Nicole Huth

Gordon’s Flamingo Run began accepting food stamps this Monday — and they’ve already had their first transaction.

Last spring, University Housing announced it would begin the process to make all dining halls and campus markets food stamp-accessible. While the Gordon’s convenience store is the first UW site, housing officials told The Daily Cardinal they plan to evaluate its success during the school year and hope to expand access across campus.

For Garrett Pauli, a UW-Madison senior, food insecurity has affected his time on campus, as he often stretched loan money and relied on unhealthy — but free — options for food. This led him to apply for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits, otherwise known as food stamps.

“Food insecurity affects people in both subtle and dramatic ways,” Pauli said. “It can be as nuanced as not being able to eat when you are out with friends at a restaurant or going stretches of time without eating or only eating ramen.”

On college campuses, students like Pauli aren’t alone — roughly 20 percent of students at four-year institutions have ”very low food security,” according to The National Campaign Against Student Hunger and Homelessness.

Brooke Evans, a UW-Madison alumna, activist and a SNAP beneficiary herself, spearheaded the food stamp initiative on campus over the course of three years. After living as a homeless student at UW-La Crosse and UW-Madison, she wondered why she couldn't use her SNAP benefits on campus.

“I too want to eat next to my peers as a vital component of the campus experience and Wisconsin Experience,” Evans said last spring.

She worked with faculty, staff, Union Council and others before inviting Director of University Housing Jeff Novak to meet with the Associated Students of Madison in March 2017.

After the receiving approval from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Novak and his team worked to mark all eligible items so they could be read by an Electron Benefits Transfer at sale — each state has its own payment system and the university must invest in card readers in order to accept food stamps as payment.

As of now, the Flamingo Run in Gordon is the only campus location to join the program. Novak said going forward, each additional campus location needs to apply individually for eligibility. While all campus markets will be eligible, guidelines state that no more than 50 percent of food purchased with SNAP can be prepared on-site — disqualifying all dining halls.

Besides University Housing, the Union also hopes to begin accepting food stamps sometime this year, according to Union Council member Sydney Weiser. Union restaurants, like dining halls, would not be eligible, but they could implement a program in the Badger Markets.

For Evans, seeing UW-Madison become food stamp-accessible is “by far” one of her proudest accomplishments.

“This was one project of many to continue closing the gap in quality of life and experience between students of different socioeconomic statuses,” she said. “I will return to my institution and purchase food with my FoodShare next to my peers fortunate enough to not need its assistance.”

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