Tallahassee-area Democratic U.S. Rep. Al Lawson and Massachusetts U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren introduced legislation Wednesday that would make low-income college students eligible for food stamps.
According to a federal Government Accountability Office report published in December, more than 30 percent of college students might face what’s called “food insecurity” – not being able to afford groceries. The legislation would amend the Food and Nutrition Act of 2008 to include college students who qualify for a federal Pell grant or whose families are considered low-income. Most people ages 18 to 49 who are enrolled in college and have no disabilities aren’t eligible for food stamps, except for certain students in state-designated work and training programs, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The bill would also lower the work requirement for college students under the program that provides food stamps – the the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Normally, someone has to work 20 hours a week to get food stamps, but the legislation would allow college students to get food assistance as long as they work 10 hours a week
And it requires the U.S. Department of Education to notify low-income students who are eligible for a federal Pell Grant that they may be eligible for SNAP and refer them to states’ SNAP application websites.
“Food insecurity is a real concern for many college students across our nation,” Rep. Lawson said in a written statement. “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.”
Among the Democratic co-sponsors to the House bill are U.S. Rep. Darren Soto from Orlando and Alcee Hastings from South Florida.
“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,” said Sen. Warren, who is running for president. “Our bill will ensure students have the support they need as they work hard toward a better future without going hungry.”
A number of social service organizations endorse the bill, including Feeding America, the Urban Food Policy Institute and the National Center on Housing and Child Welfare.
“Poor health and achievement outcomes are well documented among young children who experience hunger and homelessness with their families,” said Megan Hustings, director for the National Coalition for the Homeless. “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 these working to broaden their education, and their opportunities, can access the healthy food necessary to achieve their best.”