Receiving TANF or SNAP benefits qualify students for the KEYS Program

Unlocking Benefits in the KEYS Program


HACC, like many Pennsylvania community colleges, helps eligible students succeed in schooling through the Keystone Education Yields Success Program.

According to Melissa Arslan, director of HACC’s Keys program, KEYS students receive financial assistance through a collaboration between their college and the Department of Human Services. “We serve students receiving SNAP or TANF, and we’re kind of a welfare to education to work program,” Arslan said. “The ultimate goal of our students is to graduate and then get a job that’s self-sustaining employment.”

Arslan said that many students unknowingly qualify for SNAP, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. SNAP recipients get a certain amount of benefits each month based on family size and income. Further requirements are listed on the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s website and eligible students can apply for SNAP here, but Arslan encourages them to connect with the Central PA Food Bank, which can help walk them through applying.

Fewer students qualify for TANF, Temporary Aid for Needy Families. The minimum income requirements are stricter, and to be eligible you must also have children.

HACC students who are enrolled in TANF are automatically referred to the KEYS program. SNAP students are also eligible but are not referred automatically. They should initiate contact through this form, email, or phone. If a TANF student has not been connected automatically, they should also reach out.

A KEYS facilitator is paired with each student, mentoring and encouraging them. Students are also eligible for $1,000 towards books (one time) and $2,500 towards transportation (yearly). SNAP and TANF students are eligible for special allowances, where KEYS facilitators file paperwork so the student’s county office will provide funding for school supplies, transportation, or other school costs.

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HACC also has a KEYS budget to provide additional help. SNAP students can get participant reimbursements, which Arslan said are given at the beginning instead of reimbursed. It might be a laundry bundle, school supplies, or gift cards.

TANF students are also eligible for incentives, where facilitators offer rewards such as items or gift cards, for accomplishing goals or benchmarks. “We can really set those benchmarks to whatever we want, and we can also make them pretty individualized so we can motivate each student…kind of in a different way,” Arslan said.

SNAP and TANF students each have requirements to meet in the program, including a monthly meeting with their facilitator and weekly logs where they record hours spent on activities such as school or work. The hours vary for TANF students, but all SNAP students are required to log three hours per week.

Arslan says the mentoring and peer relationships become one of the students’ favorite parts of KEYS. “You poll people before they come into KEYS and it’s like, ‘Well, why did you want to enroll?’ Well, the financial benefits. And then, maybe six, eight, twelve weeks later: “What’s the best part about KEYS?” They hands down all say their KEYS facilitator,” she said.

Students can apply to the KEYS program anytime while enrolled at HACC. They can also email [email protected] or call (717)-780-1181.