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Mar 20, 2017  |  PERMALINK »

Basic Needs Insecurity Threatens College Student Success

By Duy Pham

A recent study from the Wisconsin HOPE Lab finds that two-thirds of surveyed community college students are food insecure and half are housing insecure. Even among students who work and receive financial aid, nearly a third still experience food or housing insecurity. The study is based on responses from over 33,000 students at 70 community colleges in 24 states—making it one of the largest, most diverse surveys ever fielded on community college students’ basic needs. The results show that basic needs insecurity is prevalent at community colleges throughout the nation, regardless of geographic or socioeconomic region.

Many community college students are low income and lack the supports needed to cover food and housing costs. Among surveyed Pell grant recipients, 60 percent are housing insecure and 16 percent are homeless. Sixty-four percent also have low food security. In addition, many of the neediest students don’t even get Pell grants. Among non-Pell students, 44 percent are housing insecure, 28 percent have low food security, and 12 percent are homeless. Further, just one-third of homeless community college students are also receiving student loans.

Racially diverse community colleges are slightly more likely to have high rates of food and housing insecurity. According to the Wisconsin HOPE Lab, 63 percent of students at the most diverse schools have low food security, compared to 54 percent of students at the least diverse schools. Additionally, 55 percent of students at the most diverse schools are housing insecure, compared to 49 percent at the least diverse schools.

The study also highlights major challenges for student parents and foster youth. Sixty-three percent of student parents in the study are housing insecure, 63 percent have low food security, and 14 percent are homeless. Only 5 percent of student parents report receiving child care assistance.  In addition, almost 30 percent of community college students who have experienced foster care are homeless; among those students, three quarters have low food security.

It’s extremely difficult for low-income college students to overcome unmet financial need. Among community college students—who tend to be older, racially diverse, financially independent, parents, and employed—unmet need averages $4,011. The shortfall is even greater for Black and Latino students. In most cases, financial aid isn’t enough to cover the total cost of attending college, leading to students borrow and work more, cut their course loads, or even drop out.

Public benefits are a proven to way to address these challenges. SNAP, TANF, and other programs can help low-income students increase their food and housing security and make ends meet while in school. Benefits Access for College Completion—a joint initiative by CLASP and the American Association of Community Colleges to connect more eligible students to public benefits—demonstrated a direct correlation between increased benefits access and improved progress toward degree completion.

While benefits can help low-income students finish school, there are numerous barriers that prevent access. Community colleges need to improve outreach to low-income students as well as help them apply for all the benefits for which they’re eligible. Additionally, Congress should amend the Higher Education Act to improve students’ access to supports. The benefits programs themselves, such as SNAP and subsidized child care, could also be revised to better support postsecondary attendance.

The Wisconsin HOPE Lab study was released at a town hall on college student hunger and homelessness on March 15, where CLASP’s Amy Ellen Duke-Benfield stressed the need to “better align public benefits policies to support postsecondary attendance to help more students complete and gain the qualifications for family-supporting jobs.” Innovative policies that enable underserved students to persist in and complete postsecondary education, such as ensuring low-income students have access to affordable health care, are critically important to help them secure good jobs and strengthen our economy.

Mar 16, 2017  |  PERMALINK »

Trump’s Budget: Huge Cuts to Employment, Education, Training for Low-Income Youth and Adults

President’ Trump’s budget for Fiscal Year 2018 (FY18) proposes drastic and harmful cuts to vital employment, education, and training services that enable low-income youth and adults to improve their skills and succeed in the workforce.

The U.S. Department of Education’s budget would shrink by $9.2 billion (13 percent over the prior year). Critical student aid programs for low-income students will see the biggest cuts.

  • The president’s budget cuts student aid by at least $4.6 billion. It also makes “significant” cuts to the Federal Work-Study program (though the amount is not specified). Student aid programs are already insufficient to meet the financial need of today’s students. Low-income students attending postsecondary education face greater challenges than ever; more and more employers are demanding education and training beyond high school. This places students in the difficult position of needing postsecondary training that is increasingly unaffordable. Even without these cuts, students have significant unmet need, particularly students of color. In 2011-12, 57 percent of Black community college students received Pell grants; however, 82 percent still had a remaining unmet financial need averaging $5,000. Three-quarters of students from Asian, Hispanic, and Native backgrounds also have remaining unmet need. 
  • The budget removes $3.9 billion from the Pell grant program, which already covers less than 30 percent of the average cost of college attendance. More than 7.7 million students depend on Pell grants to help cover tuition. Among them, 55 percent have family incomes of $20,000 or less (the poverty threshold for a family of three). Cancelling funding from Pell threatens legal commitments to provide Pell grants to every eligible student who applies. Congress has unique accounting rules for Pell’s need-based guarantee; consequently, reductions in the Pell balance will lead to required, automatic future cuts in either grant amounts or student eligibility policies. Such restrictions would further harm low-income students, compounding the harmful changes made to the Pell grant program in 2011, the last time there was a shortfall
  • Other changes to the core student aid programs include eliminating Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants (SEOG), a federal grant program that provides $733 million to help students with greatest need cover college costs. The budget also seeks to “significantly” reduce Federal Work-Study funding that enables low-income students to work their way through college as well as meet SNAP eligibility requirements for food assistance.
  • The budget proposes a 10 percent cut to Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs (GEAR UP) as well as a one-third reduction in funding for TRIO. GEAR UP, prepares vulnerable youth and low-income, first-generation, and nontraditional students for postsecondary education. TRIO provides services throughout the education pipeline to help students succeed beginning in middle school. This would be particularly harmful for Student Support Services, which should be increased—not cut—in order to connect students to more comprehensive financial supports.

The Department of Labor’s budget would cut $2.5 billion—a debilitating 21 percent reduction from the 2017 annualized CR level.

  • The budget substantially cuts grants to states and local areas to provide workforce training to low-income youth and adults through the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), which passed Congress in 2014 with overwhelming bipartisan support. WIOA provides essential career and training services to low-income adults. It’s a primary source of funding that helps states and local communities  support out-of-school youth in accessing job training, reengaging in school, and earning their diploma as well as partner with employers to provide pathways into the workforce.  While the budget proposes that states, localities, and employers take more responsibility for these programs, significant funding reductions will mean less help for low-income workers who are striving to build skills and advance along career pathways to better-paying jobs. 
  • The budget reduces funding for several critical job training programs targeted to specific populations. This includes the proposed elimination of the Senior Community Service Employment Program (SCSEP) for low-income seniors, which was reauthorized by a bipartisan, nearly unanimous vote last year. SCSEP supports subsidized employment that provides crucial job opportunities for low-income unemployed Americans who are just a few years away from retirement age, giving them a chance to earn wages and serve in their communities.

In addition to Education and Labor cuts, the budget slashes other anti-poverty programs that are crucial for low-income workers and students. For instance, eliminating the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) would cut off assistance to low-income families who can’t cover heating and cooling costs.  Further, ending Health Profession Opportunity Grants (HPOG), which build career pathways for low-skill adults into critical health care careers, would prevent many low-income adults from upgrading their skills and disrupt the pipeline of skilled workers needed by the long-term care and hospital industries. Lastly, eliminating funding for the Corporation for National and Community Service would destroy the AmeriCorps program, which currently enables 80,000 young Americans to support natural disaster relief, provide education and social services to low-income youth and elderly people, and help local communities solve pressing issues such as hunger and poverty. This would abolish crucial opportunities for low-income youth to secure pathways out of poverty through increased access to education, work experience, and civic engagement.

CLASP urges the House and Senate to reject Trump’s budget. Instead, Congress should continue strong federal investments to help low-income Americans succeed in today’s economy by supporting adequate FY18 appropriations for our nation’s fundamental education and workforce programs.

Mar 8, 2017  |  PERMALINK »

TAKE ACTION: New GOP Bill Imperils Health Care/Medicaid

Updated March 14, 2017


On March 13, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO)—a nonpartisan agency that provides objective budget and economic information to Congress—released its “score” of the effects of the American Health Care Act (AHCA).  The CBO projects that if this bill is enacted, 14 million more people in the U.S. will be uninsured in 2018, and by 2026, 24 million more people will be uninsured than under current law.  The CBO estimates that the AHCA will slash the federal contribution to Medicaid by $880 billion over 10 years.  The House, which has already moved the bill forward without the CBO score, is continuing full steam ahead to pass it with almost no debate. Congressional leaders hope to have final votes as soon as next week. 

Now is the time to call your members of Congress, both House and Senate, at (202) 224-3121 and tell them to reject the American Health Care Act.

The AHCA would make sweeping changes to the health care system by eliminating the need-based health care subsidies at the heart of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and making dramatic cuts to Medicaid. This is the much-anticipated ACA Repeal bill promised for years by Republicans.

The bill would shift an estimated $880 billion in Medicaid costs to the states over the next 10 years, effectively ending the Medicaid expansion starting in 2020 while also harming the care for tens of millions of children, parents, people with disabilities, and seniors who rely on the program today.  The CBO estimates that by 2026, 14 million fewer people would receive Medicaid coverage than under current law.

The AHCA fundamentally changes the core funding structure of Medicaid as it has existed for 50 years. Instead of the ongoing federal commitment to sharing in the costs of providing comprehensive coverage to eligible families, states would receive capped funding—or “per capita caps”—for Medicaid. This does nothing to reduce the cost of health insurance; it only shifts costs from the federal government to states, forcing them to make the hard choices of raising taxes, or cutting eligibility, benefits, or provider payments. This is exactly what happened in other block grant programs. The capped funding structure of both the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program and the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) has failed to keep up with need, requiring states to restrict access and cut payments to families and providers. With Medicaid per capita caps, states would have no choice but to reduce enrollment, cut benefits, or shift additional costs to providers. This puts at risk the coverage of millions of children, parents, seniors, and people with disabilities who rely on Medicaid for their health and wellbeing.

Other provisions of this bill would make it more difficult for individuals to apply for Medicaid and to maintain their coverage. In addition, AHCA undermines the quality of the benefit available to people receiving Medicaid, meaning that medically necessary services may not be covered and, thus, unavailable unless people can afford to pay out-of-pocket for care.

AHCA would also undermine access to affordable health insurance for millions of moderate-income people who currently purchase insurance through the ACA’s marketplace with help from federal premium tax credits. Because the new credits proposed by AHCA would be delinked from both the true cost of insurance and the customer’s ability to pay, millions of people would find health insurance unaffordable, even with the credits. Moreover, this would create a new work disincentive (a so-called “cliff effect”) for individuals whose earnings exceeded the Medicaid eligibility thresholds – meaning that low-income working parents would once again be forced to turn down added hours or a promotion at work to avoid jeopardizing their and their family’s health care. That’s a choice no one should be asked to make.

CLASP has raised serious concerns about this proposal to the House, urging them to immediately reject this bill and halt its legislative progress. If enacted, this bill will be devastating to: children, parents, seniors, and people with disabilities who get their coverage through Medicaid, low-income workers whether covered by the Medicaid expansion or by ACA premium tax credits, and states that will likely have to cut other key investments such as education to cover growing health care costs.

Together we must draw a line in the sand and demand our representatives stand up to protect the health and economic security of their constituents. They should not enact any health care bill that cuts Medicaid and leaves more people uninsured.

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