June 10, 2021

Warren, Padilla, Torres Introduce Legislation to Improve Equity in Higher Education By Helping Students Access Basic Needs

BASIC Act would invest $1 billion to help meet students’ basic needs including food, housing, and transportation

Bill Text (PDF) 

Washington, DC – Today, United States Senators  Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Alex Padilla (D-Calif.), along with U.S. Representative Norma Torres (D-Calif.), introduced the Basic Assistance for Students in College (BASIC) Act, bicameral legislation to ensure college students are able to meet their basic needs while pursuing their education. Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) are cosponsors of the bill. 

The bicameral legislation provides $1 billion for grants to ensure institutions of higher learning have the resources they need to support their students’ most fundamental needs, and directs the federal government to streamline data sharing across agencies to help students who qualify for aid – particularly Pell Grant recipients and attendees of community colleges and minority-serving institutions – access it.

"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,” said Senator Warren. “As students take on a mountain of student loan debt, they shouldn't have to choose between paying tuition and eating or living in safe housing. Our bill will help ensure college students can succeed without going hungry or struggling to meet other basic needs.”

“We cannot let our students go hungry or sacrifice their health in order to afford a higher education,” Senator Padilla said. “We cannot turn a blind eye to the growing crisis of poverty among college and university students. The BASIC Act will help students focus on their goal – graduating. For these students to compete in a modern workforce we must give them the tools they need to succeed.”

“A college degree is a valuable asset for the 21st Century workforce, but it cannot come at the expense of basic needs,” Rep. Norma J. Torres said. “A student preoccupied by hunger is a student distracted from learning. The BASIC Act empowers schools to meet the needs of their students, coordinates assistance across federal agency lines, and provides resources so no student is forced to choose between college credits and food or rent. I thank Senators Padilla and Warren for joining me in this cause, and urge our colleagues in both Congressional chambers and from both sides of the aisle to support this vital bill for our students and our future workforce.”

The BASIC Act provides for two-year Planning Grants – up to $50,000 per institution and $40 million in total – for basic needs research and plan development to address unmet needs, including access to food, housing, transportation, child care, health care, and technology.

The legislation also provides for Implementation Grants – up to $1 million per institution and $960 million in total – to execute on the plans they develop over five years. To ensure that the students most in need of help are enrolled, the BASIC Act also directs the Department of Education to coordinate with the Departments of Agriculture, Housing and Urban Development, and Health and Human Services to share data identifying students who may be eligible for federal aid programs.

Endorsing organizations include: American Association of Community Colleges, American Student Association of Community Colleges (ASACC), California Community Colleges, California State University System, Challah for Hunger, Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities (HACU), Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice, Institute for Higher Education Policy (IHEP), MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger, University of California, UC Student Association, and Student Senate for California Community Colleges.

This bill is part of Senator Warren's ongoing efforts to help address the existing and worsened inequities facing our students.

  • Last month, Senators Warren, Padilla, Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Bernard Sanders (I-Vt.), and Representatives Torres, Jahana Hayes (D-Conn.), and Al Lawson (D-Fla.) 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.

  • In May 2021, Senators Warren, Murphy, Markey, Cory Booker (D-N.J.), and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) sent a letter to Senate leadership urging them to include additional long-term funding for elementary and secondary schools in the next funding package to help accelerate students' academic progress, address students' social-emotional needs, and target the significant inequities in public education, which have been worsened by the pandemic.

  • In March 2021, Senators Warren, Markey, Wyden, Murphy, and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), introduced the Educational Equity Challenge Grant Act to create a $100 billion application-based grant program over the next ten years to help accelerate academic progress and address students' social, emotional, mental, behavioral, and physical health needs related to COVID-19. 

  • In February 2021, Senator Warren joined Senators Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), and eight of their senate colleagues in introducing a bill to address hunger needs during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond by requiring the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to expand online SNAP purchasing choices.