Senator Warren and Representative Lawson Introduce the College Student Hunger Act of 2019 to Address Hunger on College Campuses

Originally published on Warren.Senate.Gov.

More than 30% of college students might face food insecurity, and almost 2 million at-risk students did not receive SNAP benefits in 2016, even though they were eligible; Legislation would ensure support to food-insecure students and remove barriers to low-income college students accessing SNAP benefits by expanding the eligibility criteria.

Washington, DC – United States Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, and Representative Al Lawson (D-Fla.), member of the U.S. House Committee on Agriculture, today introduced the College Student Hunger Act of 2019, 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 Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) and Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) are Senate cosponsors. Representatives James McGovern (D-Mass.), Gwen Moore (D-Wis.), Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-District of Columbia), Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), Salud Carbajal (D-Calif.), and Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) are House cosponsors.

In February 2017, Senator Warren led a letter with Senators Markey, Patty Murray (D-Wash.), and Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) to the Government Accountability Office (GAO) requesting a study on food insecurity at colleges and universities.

In January 2019, Senator Warren and her colleagues released the GAO’s report, revealing that more than 30% of college students may 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 college and take on 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 to work toward a better future without going hungry.”

“Food insecurity is a real concern for many college students across our nation,” said Representative Lawson. “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.”

“We have the food, the resources, and the infrastructure to end hunger in America – but what we lack is the political willpower,” said Representative McGovern. “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 College Student Hunger Act will address student hunger by increasing low-income college students’ ability to access SNAP, testing new ways SNAP can be administered on college campuses, and increasing awareness about student eligibility for SNAP. 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., who are in foster care, who are veterans, or who are 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 bill is endorsed by elected officials in Massachusetts, including Senate Assistant Majority Leader Sal DiDomenico, Senator Anne Gobi, Representative Smitty Pignatelli, and Representative Jeffrey N. Roy.

“All across my district and throughout the Commonwealth, there are students at our institutions of higher learning who face food insecurity as a reality of their day-to-day lives, both in and outside the classroom, putting their academic success at risk. As a State Senator representing some of Massachusetts’s most high-need communities, I have heard from countless students who struggle to get by and are unsure of where their next meal will come from. I am proud of the ongoing work we are doing here on the state level to remove barriers to nutritional assistance, and I know Senator Warren’s legislation would be instrumental in helping to ensure that our students have access to the nutrition they need. Our Senator has been a tireless advocate for college students for many years, and she is once again advocating for them by fighting to close the SNAP Gap on our college campuses and beyond. We are very fortunate to have her as our partner on this issue, and I applaud her commitment to fighting food insecurity for our nation’s most vulnerable residents.” – MA Senate Assistant Majority Leader Sal DiDomenico


“As a former teacher, I know that a student who is hungry is a student that is not concentrating on their studies.  I appreciate Senator Warren’s leadership and her work to combat food insecurity.  Many college students, especially the non-traditional student who may also have a family, will be greatly helped by this legislation.” – MA State Senator Anne Gobi, Senate Chair of the Joint Committee on Higher Education and Senate Chair of the Joint Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture

“The last thing any student who works day and night to finance their education should have to worry about is being hungry. I want to thank Senator Warren and Congressman Lawson for championing the fight against food insecurity and all of their efforts towards raising national awareness about student hunger.” MA State Representative Smitty Pignatelli, House Chair of the Joint Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture
“In my work as House Chair of the Joint Committee on Higher Education, I have heard stories from too many students facing food insecurity. I am thrilled to see Senator Warren’s introduction of the College Student Hunger Act, a plan to address this issue on our college campuses. In many instances, college students are forced to choose between school necessities and food, which has a direct impact on their opportunity to learn. And with ever increasing education costs, this legislation would provide concrete ways to assist students with the nutrition they need to thrive. By allowing students access to SNAP benefits and notifying students of their eligibility, Senator Warren’s bill would ensure that students do not go hungry. With over 30 percent of our students facing some form of food insecurity, and millions of others at-risk, the time to address these issues is here. The College Student Hunger Act takes important steps to provide relief.” – MA State Representative Jeffrey N. Roy, House Chair of the Joint Committee on Higher Education
The bill is also endorsed by a number of organizations: Massachusetts Association of Community Colleges, Project Bread, Massachusetts Law Reform Institute, First Focus Campaign for Children, UCLA Undergraduate Students Association, Children’s HealthWatch, Challah for Hunger, National Coalition for the Homeless, Massachusetts League of Community Health Centers, Florida Impact to End Hunger, National Center on Housing and Child Welfare, Center for Law and Social Policy, MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger, CUNY Urban Food Policy Institute, Hunger Free Vermont, Vermont Food Bank, Feeding America, Food Research & Action Center, National Network for Youth, SchoolHouse Connection, Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice, and National Women’s Law Center.

“The fifteen Massachusetts Community Colleges strongly support the College Student Hunger Act of 2019. Hunger is not just a poverty issue – it’s also a student success issue. Thank you to Senator Warren and Representative Lawson for their leadership to expand SNAP eligibility and remove barriers for low-income students who are too hungry to learn.” – Tom Sannicandro, Director of the Massachusetts Association of Community Colleges


“Project Bread is committed to preventing and ending hunger in Massachusetts, and in recent years, our work has included assisting college students who, while in pursuit of higher education, have experienced hunger. In serving these students, most of whom are currently ineligible for SNAP (food stamps), we recognize that broadening the eligibility requirements of this program is the only way to ensure all students can stay focused on their education. We applaud our Massachusetts Senator, Elizabeth Warren, as well as Congressman Al Lawson, for prioritizing hunger, and we encourage college students in Massachusetts to call our FoodSource Hotline (1-800-645-8333) for assistance accessing food, including with screening and application assistance for SNAP.”– Erin McAleer, President, Project Bread


“We can no longer ignore the growing crisis of food insecurity in the Commonwealth or the nation, especially among the growing body of non-traditional students. Our investments in higher education are eviscerated if students are unable to learn due to hunger and/or homelessness. Mass Law Reform and our poverty law colleagues heartily applaud Senators Warren and Markey for both pursuing the GAO report and filing this critical legislation to ensure core federal nutrition benefits reach students in need.” – Pat Baker, Senior Policy Analyst, MA Law Reform Institute

“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
“Challah for Hunger urged the GAO in 2017 to respond to Senator Warren’s request to assess food insecurity on college campuses, an issue that we know is deeply affecting our communities and one that thousands of our volunteers are addressing through the Campus Hunger Project. This bill will help almost 2 million college students access SNAP, one of the most effective federal programs in reducing food insecurity, which is why we are proud to endorse it.” -Miriam Lipschutz, Program Manager at Challah for 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, National Coalition for the Homeless
“Massachusetts health centers are on the front lines of providing care to communities most impacted by poverty and food insecurity, and understand that these challenges follow students who leave lower-income communities for college in search of better opportunities for their families. Access to SNAP for students in need will help ensure that they can focus on obtaining their degrees and ultimately bring their talents and training back to underserved communities.” – James W. Hunt, Jr. , President & CEO, Massachusetts League of Community Health Centers
“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