Bill targets food insecurity at community colleges

House bill introduced Thursday would create a pilot program that would provide grants to community colleges so they can offer free meals to students who need them.Rep. Adam Schiff (D-California) introduced the Food for Thought Act to help curb hunger among community college students, an issue that along with housing insecurity has gained national attention over the past few years. 

“After hearing from community colleges in my area about the number of their students who depended on campus food banks to meet basic needs, I believe we must act,” Schiff said in a press release. “Establishing a free meal program for students in need would eliminate a major barrier to graduation and future success.”

Schiff cited recent research from the Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice (Hope Center) that found nearly 45 percent of community college students report some degree of food insecurity, with significant percentages of community college students skipping some meals because they cannot afford to buy food.

Meals and information

The bill would authorize $6 million for fiscal years 2020-23 for the program. Colleges could receive grants of up to $200,000.

Through the legislation, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) would make grants available for community college campuses to:

— establish a free meal program for eligible students
— conduct campus outreach
— prepare and/or purchase meals from vendors
— provide information to participating students on eligibility for federal food assistance programs

FNS, in consultation with state education agencies and community colleges, would provide technical assistance to grantees, which includes general program administration, training college employees to manage the program, developing student outreach materials, and, as applicable, developing prepared food infrastructure. 

College receiving the grants would collect and share data on the prevalence of food insecurity on their campuses. FNS would then review the results of the pilot and recommend ways to expand the program nationwide.

Kudos from the field

The American Association of Community Colleges and organizations such as the Community College League of California and several community college districts in California support the bill. AACC President Walter Bumphus noted that community colleges continue to enroll more underrepresented and low-income students than any other sector of higher education. “We applaud this chance to increase student completion by removing hunger as a barrier to success,” he said.

Sara Goldrick-Rab, who through her research on the issue has helped to bring national attention to hunger on college campuses, also lauded the legislation.

 “The National School Lunch Program recognizes that in order to learn, students must eat. There is no reason for NLSP’s critical support to end when a student finishes high school— college is now essential, and lunch is a college success strategy,” said Goldrick-Rab, founding director of the Hope Center at Temple University in Philadelphia.

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About the Author

Matthew Dembicki
is editor of Community College Daily and serves as publications director for the American Association of Community Colleges.