Padilla Introduces Legislation to Help College Students Access SNAP Benefits

WASHINGTON D.C. — Today, U.S. Senator Alex Padilla (D-Calif.) introduced legislation to help college students experiencing food insecurity more easily access Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits. The bill is cosponsored by U.S. Senators Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), John Fetterman (D-Pa.), Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Peter Welch (D-Vt.), and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.). Representative Suzanne Bonamici (D-Ore.-01) introduced companion legislation in the House of Representatives.

The Opportunity to Address College Hunger Act would require colleges and universities to notify students participating in a state or federally financed work-study program of their potential eligibility for SNAP benefits, and would require them to provide these students with official eligibility documentation to help eliminate common hurdles that students face when applying for SNAP benefits. In California, only about 127,000 college students received CalFresh (California’s SNAP program) prior to the pandemic, but up to 689,000 students were likely eligible.

“No student should have to sacrifice their health and nutrition in order to afford a college education, especially when we have programs like SNAP in place to support them,” said Senator Padilla. “But too often, our students go hungry simply because of information gaps and communication failures. That’s why I’m introducing this legislation to help keep college students healthy and prepared to learn in California and across the country.”

“The California State University is proud to support the Opportunity to Address College Hunger Act. CSU universities and CSU staff work hard every day to support the needs of our students, and making certain that they are aware of the help available to them through programs such as CalFresh is an important part of those efforts. The CSU sincerely thanks Senator Padilla and Representative Bonamici, for their efforts in this area.  Students across the CSU, the State of California, and throughout the nation will benefit from their efforts, and will be more likely to graduate due to their hard work,” said Ray Murillo, Interim Assistant Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs, Equity and Belonging, The California State University.

“We’re proud to support the Opportunity to Address College Hunger Act. Our responsibility as policy advocates is more than just creating new policies, it is also about ensuring that students are aware of and take advantage of resources available to them. This is equitable access. This bill aims to ensure that we play our part to make students aware of their eligibility for SNAP so that they may reap the benefits. We thank Senator Padilla for his leadership on this important issue,” said David O’Brien, Vice Chancellor of Government Relations, California Community Colleges.

“Hunger among college students remains a pervasive problem as evidenced by the hundreds of pantries that have sprung up on college campuses in recent years, but these pantries alone cannot provide meaningful stability and food security for students,” said Abby J. Leibman, President & CEO of MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger. “We know from our experience that SNAP (formerly food stamps) remains the most effective and efficient response to this problem. We commend Senator Padilla and the cosponsors of this bill for their leadership in ensuring that students who can qualify for SNAP will be notified of their eligibility, because the last thing college students should worry about is if they will have enough food to eat.”

Millions of eligible college students face barriers to enrollment including the complex application process and a lack of information sharing from their institutions. Roughly 60% of students potentially eligible for SNAP do not receive benefits — mainly due to a lack of awareness, stigma, or burdensome application requirements.

The Governmental Accountability Office (GAO) has previously recommended that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) improve its SNAP eligibility information for students and share best practices for notifying them of their potential eligibility. The bill would follow through on this recommendation by also requiring the U.S. Department of Education and the USDA to provide guidance to states and institutions of higher education on best practices to increase outreach to students who are potentially eligible for SNAP.

Senator Padilla has been a strong advocate for addressing the food insecurity crisis among college students and for helping them meet their basic needs while pursuing a higher education. Last year, he co-led a letter signed by over 80 of his colleagues to USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack urging him to issue guidance clarifying college students’ eligibility for SNAP benefits. He also previously introduced the Student Food Security Act of 2021 to address food insecurity on college campuses, the Basic Assistance for Students in College (BASIC) Act to ensure college students are able to meet their basic needs while pursuing their education, and the Enhance Access to SNAP (EATS) Act to expand access to SNAP for millions of college students.

The Opportunity to Address College Hunger Act is endorsed by California State University, California Community Colleges, MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger, Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Feeding America, National Education Association (NEA), American Federation of Teachers (AFT), Bread for the World, Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP), Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice, Institute for Higher Education Policy, Education Trust, Swipe Out Hunger, First Focus Campaign for Children, and Child and Student Nutrition Alliance.

A one pager of the bill is available here.

Full text of the bill is available here.


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