Biden’s Reality: Harvard Students Encouraged to Sign Up For SNAP Benefits Alongside Military Members 

f11photo / shutterstock.com
f11photo / shutterstock.com

Imagine a world where one of the richest academic institutions refuses to pay graduate student workers a living wage and encourages them to sign up for government freebies instead. 

This is not Bizarro world, it’s the current situation at world-renowned Harvard University. With an estimated $53 billion endowment, Harvard is in the top three of the richest universities in the world. 

And it can’t afford to pay its graduate students.  

It’s not unusual for Harvard’s graduate student workers to protest wages. They have gone on strike twice before, once in 2019 and again in 2021. Following the 2021 strike, the university forced workers to sign agreements allowing Harvard to withhold three days’ worth of pay, equivalent to the three days the workers withheld labor. 

The current contract sets salaries for grad students at around $40,000. Koby Ljunggren, the president of the Harvard Graduate Student Union (HGSU), explains that the contract is structured to be minimum, and that the university obviously has the resources to increase salaries, but chooses not to. 

In Harvard University’s home city of Cambridge, Massachusetts, a one-bedroom apartment starts at over $3200 per month. Studio apartments are around $2000, and two bedrooms cost an average of $4000 per month.   

Ljunggren observes that students used to pay around $90 a week for groceries, but now the cost of has risen to about $120 weekly. But Harvard has the answer for its struggling grad student employees: sign up for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits. 

Harvard’s Health Services office sent fliers to its grad students promoting an on-campus SNAP sign-up event, with the tagline “Fuel your body & stock your pantry.” The flier notes that grad students can qualify to receive governmental assistance for food and groceries. Per a university spokesperson, not only will the event provide information for applying, but it will also “feature a registered dietician who can assist students in creating inexpensive, yet nutritious meals that fuel their bodies.”  

But encouraging grad students to apply for SNAP presents a unique problem for more than a third of the university’s student workforce. Over 30% of them are international, and ineligible for assistance. Receiving SNAP would jeopardize their student visas. 

Promoting an on-campus program that would exclude 30% of grad students is an interesting choice for a university who proudly embraces DEI policies, including race-based and affirmative action enrollment. 

Undergraduate students pay more than $55k in annual tuition. Conversely, they are paid so little that they turn to government assistance to buy groceries. 

Some argue that if a student can afford Harvard tuition, the cost of groceries is most likely not a concern. The median income for families of Harvard students is just under $170,000 with just a little less than 70% of students coming from the top 20% of wealth in the nation. 

This refutes the “need” for Harvard grad students to rely on SNAP. Most of them have other avenues available to help them meet their needs above and beyond the $40,000 salaries they receive from the university. 

For other Americans, like those serving in the military, SNAP is a necessity. Typically, entry-level military members receive just over $20,000 per year or around $1695 per month. 

In 2022, the U.S. Army advised its members to apply for SNAP benefits. The advice followed a Department of Defense survey that revealed nearly 287,000 military members face food insecurity issues. Of those, about 120,000 are forced to eat less or miss meals completely.  

And those numbers do not take the members’ families into account, nor reservists and their families. 

In Biden’s administration, ensuring that the military is well-cared for is far less of a priority than electric cars, removing gas stoves, and encouraging men to participate in women’s sports. Instead of paying members enough to survive, the DOD is telling them how to sign up for food stamps. 

The need for both Harvard students and military members to rely on SNAP benefits highlights the broader issue of economic challenges facing nearly every American under the Biden administration. In the case of Harvard students, the need for SNAP benefits underscores the financial strains faced by even those attending prestigious institutions. Similarly, military members seeking SNAP benefits draw attention to the economic struggles faced by individuals who serve their country, suggesting that military service does not guarantee immunity from financial hardships. 

Both instances prove that, in Biden’s new world, no one is safe.