Padilla Joins Warren, Murphy, Sanders, Colleagues to Introduce the Bicameral Student Food Security Act

College students became temporarily eligible for expanded SNAP benefits during the COVID-19 pandemic. This bill would make that expansion permanent and provide other support for students’ basic needs.

WASHINGTON, D.C.  – Today, U.S. Senators Alex Padilla (D-Calif.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), along with Representatives Jahana Hayes (D-Conn.), Al Lawson (D-Fla.), and Norma Torres (D-Calif.), introduced the Student Food Security Act of 2021, bicameral legislation to address food insecurity on college campuses by enabling more low-income college students to access the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and pushing the federal government, states, and colleges and universities to take a more proactive role in addressing student food insecurity. Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), and Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) are Senate cosponsors. 

Food insecurity for college students is especially prevalent in California. A California Legislative Analyst Office report included findings in which 44 percent of University of California undergraduate students and 26 percent of University of California graduate students reported experiencing food insecurity. Additionally, a comprehensive #RealCollege survey found that half of California community college students experience food insecurity.

A 2018 Government Accountability Office report revealed that more than 30% of college students may face food insecurity and that almost 60% of potentially eligible students were not receiving SNAP benefits. The Student Food Security Act of 2021 combines elements of Sen. Padilla’s (formerly Sen. Harris’s) BASIC Act, Sen. Warren and Rep. Lawson’s College Student Hunger ActandSen. Murphy and Rep. Hayes’s Closing the College Hunger Gap Act into a comprehensive approach to student hunger and food security. 

The pandemic has further elevated the urgency of students’ economic insecurity: A recent survey found that nearly 40% of community college students are food insecure, almost half of the students surveyed are housing insecure, and 14% have experienced homelessness. The Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021 temporarily expanded access to SNAP for college students during the COVID-19 pandemic; this bill would make that expansion permanent and provide additional support for students’ basic needs, including a new grant program to help colleges and universities support their students.

“College students shouldn’t be forced to choose between text books and their next meal,” Senator Padilla said. “I’m proud to co-lead the Student Food Security Act to permanently expand college students’ eligibility for nutrition assistance benefits, and help put food on the table for those who need it most. It is unacceptable that so many students who are juggling school, work, and family life are also going hungry. Improving food security is critical in ensuring that higher education opportunities remain accessible for all.”

“Bold policies like the Student Food Security Act of 2021 will allow students to access essential resources such as nutritious food to help them thrive while pursuing their degree. This legislation recognizes the real challenges that students experience and supports the ability of institutions and local community partnerships to effectively address them head-on through additional support and resources. The University of California is proud to support the bill, and I applaud the Senate for its leadership and continued work on this critical issue.” –University of California Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs, Michael T. Brown, Ph.D.  

“Basic Needs insecurity threatens the livelihood and education of thousands of students across California. UC Students thank Senator Padilla for the introduction of the Student Food Security Act if 2021, a historic step to ensure no student goes without food or lack access to the resources that enable their education. This remarkable action to address the unprecedented non-tuition costs of attendance at colleges and universities is needed and appreciated now more than ever.” –Government Relations Chair and third year UC Berkeley student, Josh Lewis. 

“College students are our future leaders, and unfortunately they are facing significant challenges with food insecurity and meeting basic needs during COVID-19. Now more than ever, we must support student’s ability to complete their degrees with dignity and access to the food they need to learn. This legislation is a critical step toward improving access to SNAP, our nation’s first line of defense against hunger. We applaud Senator Padilla for his continued leadership advancing a hunger-free future for every Californian.” –Andrew Cheyne, Director of Government Affairs, California Association of Food Banks.

The Student Food Security Act will address student hunger by increasing low-income college students’ ability to access SNAP, improving data collection and sharing, and creating a new grant program to help colleges and universities support their students. Specifically, the bill:

  • Increases low-income college students’ eligibility for SNAP by expanding eligibility to students who are eligible for work study, have a $0 Expected Family Contribution, meet the financial eligibility criteria for a maximum Pell Grant, or are an independent student whose household is otherwise eligible.
  • Increases outreach to eligible students by requiring the Department of Education to notify students that they may be eligible for benefits when they file their application for federal student aid. 
  • Requires the Department of Education to collect data on food and housing insecurity. 
  • Creates a SNAP student hunger demonstration program that would allow students to use their SNAP benefits at on-campus dining facilities at up to ten institutions.
  • Establishes a $1 billion per year grant program to help institutions of higher education identify and meet the food and housing security of their students. Grants can be used for research, planning, and implementation of a strategy to conduct outreach to students and coordinate resources. At least 33% of grants must go to community colleges, and institutions with high percentages of Pell recipients, Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), and other Minority-Serving Institutions will also receive priority. 

“Far too many college students struggle to meet their basic needs while they get their education – and the pandemic has made this problem even worse. As students take on a mountain of student loan debt, they shouldn’t have to choose between paying tuition and eating. Our bill will ensure college students can succeed without going hungry,” Senator Warren said

“As the cost of college continues to rise, nearly a third of all students are regularly being forced to choose between paying for school or paying for food. That is just wrong,” said Senator Murphy. “The Student Food Security Act addresses the college hunger crisis by expanding SNAP eligibility, creating a grant program for institutions to support students, and requiring the Department of Education to collect data on food and housing insecurity so we can better understand the true scope of this problem. Food insecurity harms academic performance and college completion rates, and this legislation helps us provide college students with the simple tools they need to succeed.”

“Every college student deserves a quality education free of hunger,” said Senator Sanders. “In the richest country in the world, it is an outrage that college students struggle with hunger every day. Enough is enough. We must eradicate hunger on college campuses.”

“College students have suffered through food insecurity without assistance for too long. Especially in light of the hunger crisis that has affected so many, it is crucial we ensure all students have access to reliable, nutritious meals while they complete their education,” said Rep. Hayes. “I have met with college students across Connecticut who have made it clear – they need our help. The Student Food Security Act is a comprehensive proposal that will address the vast nutrition needs of college students by expanding access to SNAP, increasing outreach to eligible students to bolster participation, and investing $1 billion a year to help colleges meet the food and housing needs of students. I thank Representatives Lawson and Torres, as well as Senators Warren, Murphy, Padilla, and Sanders for their partnership on this crucial legislation.”

“Food insecurity is a real concern for many college students across our nation. We can’t have students forced to make hard choices between paying for food over books, transportation or other necessities. Not having access to proper nutrition can affect a student’s ability to concentrate in class, and in turn, their grades may start to slip. The Student Food Security Act aims to help students get the assistance they need in order to be successful,” Rep. Lawson said

“A quality education is a vital asset for the 21st Century workforce, but it cannot come at the expense of a student’s basic needs for survival,” Rep. Torres said. “A student preoccupied by hunger is a student distracted from learning. The Student Food Security Act, which includes provisions from my legislation, the BASIC Act,  will ensure that campuses can fight hunger and homelessness among students, as well as permanently expand SNAP benefits for those in need.”

The Student Food Security Act is endorsed by the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP), Feeding America, the American Student Association of Community Colleges, Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities, Bread for the World, Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice, Institute for Higher Education Policy, MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger, New America Higher Education Program, National Center on Housing and Child Welfare, Challah for Hunger, SchoolHouse Connection, Swipe Out Hunger, Education Trust, National Women’s Law Center, Food Research & Action Center, Hunger Free America, California Community Colleges, University of California, UC Student Association, California Food Banks, Massachusetts Association of Community Colleges, Project Bread, Massachusetts Law Reform Institute, and all 15 Massachusetts community colleges (Bristol, Bunker Hill, Cape Cod, Holyoke, MassBay, Massasoit, Middlesex, North Shore, Northern Essex, Quinsigamond, Roxbury, Springfield Technical, Berkshire, Greenfield, and Mt. Wachusett).

Bill text can be found here.

A section-by-section on the bill can be found here.

A one-pager on the bill can be found here.

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