Food Insecurity on College Campuses

By Susan Blumenthal, M.D. and Christina Chu

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Help Students Access Federal, State and Community Food Assistance

Only about one quarter of food insecure students receive assistance from the Federal Supplemental Food Assistance Program (SNAP), a $76 billion initiative that serves 46 million Americans. In 2011, the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP) launched the Benefits Access for College Completion (BACC) Initiative, a program that ran from 2012 to 2014 with the purpose of helping eligible students access Federal benefits such as SNAP and Medicaid. The goal was to help students reduce financial barriers to their education and improve college completion rates. BACC partnered with seven community colleges to design policies and practices, providing information about federal and state assistance program eligibility and helping students with the enrollment process. The participating institutions found that “increasing access to public benefits was more effective when combined with other services in which students already engage, such as financial aid, counseling, and advising.” In addition, increasing students’ access to benefits improved the likelihood that they would graduate, especially for students who qualified for multiple Federal benefit programs. Implementing campus-based initiatives can also help reduce the stigma associated with receiving food assistance for students. California State University is implementing a system to begin accepting CalFresh (SNAP) electronic benefit transfer cards (EBTs) across their 23 campuses. More colleges and universities should develop initiatives to help low income students more easily navigate and access government food assistance programs to supplement their financial aid. Institutions should also develop strategies to decrease the stigma that may prevent students from accessing needed resources to alleviate food insecurity on campus.

Policy Solutions

A GAO Report: Food Insecurity on Campus

Several members of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee have requested that the Government Accountability Office (GAO) conduct a study on the scope of food insecurity at American colleges and universities. On March 20, 2017, the GAO announced that it will conduct the first-ever review of food insecurity among students enrolled in higher education which will provide national data about food insecurity on campuses nationwide. This evidence can then be translated into actions that more effectively address food insecurity experienced by students at colleges and universities across the country.

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