CA signs new law to improve benefits access for low-income students

On September 12, 2016, California Governor Jerry Brown signed the College Student Hunger Relief Act (AB 1747), a bill designed to improve benefits access for low-income college students. Specifically, it will increase access to food assistance programs, reducing hunger as well as financial barriers that threaten low-income students’ college completion. CLASP commends the state’s effort to provide nontraditional students the support they need to succeed in postsecondary education.  

AB 1747 (Weber) enables students who qualify for the Restaurant Meals Program (RMP)—an optional component of SNAP that gives counties the discretion to allow homeless, disabled, or elderly people to use their benefits for prepared meals—to purchase freshly cooked food at on-campus food facilities. Under the new law, postsecondary institutions in counties participating in RMP will be required to register as approved food vendors. The bill also establishes a fund to support partnerships between food banks and on-campus kitchens, as well as codifies existing practice to support SNAP campus outreach. Using information from the Department of Social Services, the law further requires institutions to annually inform students about the program.

For many nontraditional students, unmet financial need—the gap between college costs and what students have to pay—is a significant barrier toward pursuing and completing college. Students with high unmet need are more likely to borrow or work more, cut their course loads, or even drop out. Ensuring students are able to access public benefits, such as SNAP, can help low-income students make ends meet while in school. CLASP’s report Lessons Learned from a Community College Initiative to Help Low-Income Students discusses the results of Benefits Access for College Completion (BACC), our 2.5-year initiative to increase access to public benefits for eligible low-income students. An evaluation of BACC demonstrates a direct correlation between increased benefits access and improved progress toward degree completion.

CLASP looks forward to California’s continued efforts to address student hunger and connect them to public benefits that support persistence and completion. These initiatives should be a model for federal and state policymakers who want to help low-income students build skills, obtain credentials, and succeed in today’s economy.