Fighting college students’ hunger
Murphy, Hayes work together on bill to promote awareness, availability of food stamps
WASHINGTON — Rep. Jahana Hayes and Sen. Chris Murphy are uniting on a bill to address hunger among college students by promoting greater awareness and availability of SNAP — formerly the federal food stamps program.
“Hungry students don’t learn,” Hayes said in a statement. “No student should ever have to worry about finding the money to put the next meal on the table while in class.”
Hayes is introducing the Closing the College Hunger Gap Act in the House, while Murphy puts forward a comparable version in the Senate.
It would direct the Department of Education to let lowerincome students know about SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) eligibility, as well as the application process.
It also requires the federal
government to study food and housing insecurity among college students.
“Far too many students are forced to make the unfair decision on whether to eat or get an education,” Murphy said. “Our bill creates a uniform standard for the Department of Education to collect data on students who are experiencing food and housing insecurity, and connect them with the resources they’re eligible for so we can tackle this crisis.”
The bill may have trouble garnering significant Republican support since many GOP lawmakers view SNAP as feeding dependency on government benefits. Republicans in the House and Senate pushed hard last year for a work requirement in the Farm Bill, which sets the rules for SNAP. But it failed to make the final cut when Congress finally passed the bill in December.
SNAP is the government’s largest program addressing hunger among those in need. The federal government spent $98 billion in 2017 on nutrition assistance programs, including $68 billion on the SNAP.
Although Connecticut has its share of prestigious elite colleges such as Yale in New Haven and Wesleyan in Middletown, college students in the state are not immune to the hunger problem
Hayes cited data showing nearly a quarter of students at the University of Connecticut reported concerns over food insecurity and around 30 percent reported skipping meals to save money.
In recent months, Hayes convened a roundtable on food insecurity attended by UConn Waterbury students, local food pantry directors, and college and elected officials.
The bill reflects the changeover in the overall college population that’s been underway for decades.
A Government Accountability Office report last December on college hunger stated that more and more students from lowincome households are attending college at a time when costs have been skyrocketing.
Students from homes hovering around the poverty line went from 28 percent in 1996 to 39 percent in 2016.
The percentage of young people receiving Pell Grants (aimed at lowincome students) nearly doubled in the same time frame, the report said. Traditional students whose parents paid for four years of college represent about half of all students enrolled in 2016.
The GAO report said around 22 percent of students in 2016 had dependent children themselves, and 14 percent were single parents. The age of the average college student in
2016 was 26 years old, and
64 percent worked at least part time while enrolled, and a quarter worked full time.
In addition to food shortages, homelessness and housing insecurity also are issues on Connecticut campuses.
On Tuesday, the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities system and the Connecticut Coalition to End Homelessness released a survey of 2,000 Connecticut students.
It showed 15 percent experiencing homelessness or housing instability; 31 percent saying they could “not stay where they currently were sleeping for as long as needed”; and 23 percent reporting the place where they are currently staying is unsafe.
Murphy is a member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee, while Hayes — a former history teacher at John F. Kennedy High School in Waterbury — is on the House Education & Labor Committee.
Hayes said she would work to include the collegehunger language in the upcoming reauthorization of the Higher Education Act.
U.S. Rep. Jahana Hayes, D5th District, and U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, DConn., are working together on a bill to combat student hunger on college campuses.