July 17, 2019

Rep. Al Lawson and Sen. Elizabeth Warren Introduce the College Student Hunger Act of 2019 to Address Hunger on College Campuses

WASHINGTON DC - Today, U.S. Rep. Al Lawson (FL-05), member of the U.S. House Committees on Agriculture and Financial Services, and U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, today introduced the College Student Hunger Act of 2019. The legislation addresses 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, colleges and universities to take a more proactive role in addressing student food-insecurity.


“Food insecurity is a real concern for many college students across our nation,” Rep. Lawson said. “The significant increase in college tuition over the last decade has forced students to make a choice between buying food or paying for books and housing expenditures. This bill will help to relieve some of that financial burden for them. I am proud to work with Sen. Warren to introduce this critical piece of legislation.” 


According to the Government Accountability Office’s report, more than 30 percent of college students might face food insecurity. Moreover, while SNAP is the main federal program to address food insecurity for low-income Americans, the report found that almost 2 million at-risk students who are potentially eligible for SNAP did not receive benefits in 2016.


“As more and more students struggle to afford colleges without a mountain of student loan debt, nearly one-in-three college students cannot even afford basic necessities like food,” Senator Warren said. “Our bill will ensure students have the support they need as they work hard toward a better future without going hungry.”


Aside from a few exceptions, college students enrolled part-time or more cannot receive SNAP benefits. The College Student Hunger Act of 2019 would allow these students eligibility if they receive the maximum Pell Grant award, are in foster care, a veteran of the Armed Forces, or are classified as an unaccompanied youth who is homeless.


In Florida’s 5th Congressional District, several higher educational institutions such as the University of North Florida, Tallahassee and North Florida Community Colleges, Florida A&M University, Florida State College at Jacksonville, and Florida Gateway College, among others, have adopted a deliberate response against hunger by opening food banks on campus


Specifically, the bill:


  1. Increases low-income college students’ ability to receive SNAP: Expands the list of criteria that permits low-income college students to apply for SNAP by allowing Pell Grant eligible students and independent students (e.g., is in foster care, is a veteran, is homeless) to apply for benefits. The bill also lowers SNAP’s 20 hours per-week work requirement for college students to 10 hours.
  2. Increases outreach to eligible students: Requires the Department of Education to notify low-income students who are eligible for a Pell Grant that they may be eligible for SNAP, and to refer them to states’ SNAP application websites.
  3. Creates a SNAP student hunger pilot program: Requires the Departments of Agriculture and Education to run demonstration pilot projects to test ways to make SNAP more useful to college students, such as allowing students to use SNAP to purchase prepared food from dining halls or allowing students to apply the cash value of their benefit to directly offset the cost of a student meal plan.
  4. Increases awareness of student eligibility for SNAP: Implements the GAO’s recommendations by requiring the Department of Agriculture to increase awareness among states and colleges about student hunger, student eligibility for SNAP, and how states and colleges can help eligible students access and use their SNAP benefits. Requires the Department of Agriculture’s Inspector General to audit the agency’s outreach practices to make colleges and universities more aware of student eligibility for SNAP.


The College Student Hunger Act co-sponsors are: Senators Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), and Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Representatives Salud Carbajal (D-Calif.), Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) James McGovern (D-Mass.), Gwen Moore (D-Wis.), Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-District of Columbia), Darren Soto (D-Fla.), and Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.).


“We have the food, the resources, and the infrastructure to end hunger in America – but what we lack is the political willpower,” Rep. McGovern said. “Too often, we stereotype what hunger and food insecurity looks like and stigmatize those who use anti-hunger programs, but the reality is that nearly 40 million Americans experience hunger, and there isn’t a community or a college campus in this country that is hunger-free. That’s why I am proud to join Senator Warren and Representative Lawson in introducing this important plan to help make sure that college students can focus on learning, and not on where their next meal will come from.”


The bill is endorsed by a number of organizations, including Florida Impact to End Hunger, Project Bread, Swipe Out Hunger, First Focus Campaign for Children, Children’s HealthWatch, Bread for the World, The National Coalition for the Homeless, Center for Law and Social Policy, Challah for Hunger, National Center on Housing and Child Welfare, CUNY Urban Food Policy Institute, Hunger Free Vermont, SchoolHouse Connection, Vermont Food Bank MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger, Feeding America, Food Research & Action Center, National Network for Youth and University of California Student Association.


“While hundreds of food pantries have sprung up on campuses in recent years to provide temporary assistance to hungry students, federal food benefits—particularly SNAP—remain the most effective and efficient response to hunger among college students. We are proud of our role in calling national attention to this critically important issue, which led to the Government Accountability Office finding earlier this year that almost 2 million low-income students potentially eligible for SNAP are not participating in the program. MAZON is grateful to Senator Warren and Congressman Lawson for introducing the College Student Hunger Act, which will take important steps to clarify and expand SNAP eligibility, ensure that institutions help students access benefits, and test new models to optimize SNAP participation.” – Abby J. Leibman, president & CEO of MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger


“Poor health and achievement outcomes are well documented among young children who experience hunger and homelessness with their families. But, older learners can suffer in similar ways from the struggle to learn while barely meeting their basic human needs. It is imperative that we ensure all of those working to broaden their education, and their opportunities, can access the healthy food necessary to achieve their best.” – Megan Hustings, director for the National Coalition for the Homeless


“Today with one in five college students parenting children, ensuring systems are working for families is an essential first step toward taking away the stress of affording enough food. This bill will result in healthier adults and children who are ready to learn and work.” Dr. Megan Sandel, pediatrician and co-lead principal investigator for Children’s HealthWatch