Fight­ing col­lege stu­dents’ hunger

Mur­phy, Hayes work to­gether on bill to pro­mote aware­ness, availabili­ty of food stamps

The News-Times - - FRONT PAGE - By Dan Freed­man

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.

Jessica Hill / As­so­ci­ated Press file photo

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.

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