May 11, 2021

Warren, Murphy, Padilla, Sanders, Hayes, Lawson, and Torres Introduce the Bicameral Student Food Security Act

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

Bill Text (PDF) | Bill Section-by-Section Summary (PDF) | Bill One-Pager (PDF)

Washington, DC - United States Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Alex Padilla (D-Calif.), and Bernard Sanders (I-Vt.), and 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. 

A 2018 Government Accountability Office report, requested by Senator Warren and colleagues, 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. As a result, Warren and Rep. Lawson teamed up to introduce the College Student Hunger Act of 2019. The Student Food Security Act of 2021 combines elements of Sen. Warren and Rep. Lawson's College Student Hunger Act, Sen. Murphy and Rep. Hayes's Closing the College Hunger Gap Act, and former Sen. Harris's BASIC Act (now led by Sen. Padilla) 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 other supports for students' basic needs, including a new grant program to help colleges and universities support their students.

"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."

"College students shouldn't be forced to choose between text books and their next meal," Senator Padilla said. "I'm proud to 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."

"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 Congresswoman Hayes, Chairwoman of the Nutrition, Oversight and Department Operations Subcommittee. "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. Norma J. 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 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.

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, First Focus Campaign for Children, 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).

"The Student Food Security Act recognizes the crisis of basic needs insecurity among #RealCollege students and tackles it head-on by permanently expanding student eligibility for SNAP and providing major investments to colleges to address student hunger and housing insecurity. At a time when nearly 3-in-5 students have trouble meeting basic needs, and when so many students' lives have been upended by the pandemic, investments like this are crucial in moving us toward a world in which students can focus on learning instead of worrying about whether they can afford food." - Sara Goldrick-Rab, Founder of the Hope Center for College Community and Justice in Philadelphia and Professor of Sociology and Medicine at Temple University

"Project Bread recognizes that a hungry student cannot learn, including college students, who have consistently faced high rates of food insecurity, only exacerbated by the economic fallout from this pandemic. The level of need requires a high impact solution, with the most effective and efficient being to make college students permanently eligible for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). During the pandemic, Congress temporarily broadened eligibility rules for college students, a change that must be made permanent to ensure that college students are focused on learning, not accessing food. We applaud our Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, as well as Senators Chris Murphy and Alex Padilla, 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

"This legislation would significantly expand college students' access to much needed resources like SNAP and help ensure no college student will have to choose between food and their education." - Miriam Lipschutz, Program Manager, Challah for Hunger

"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.  

###