The mention of "food" and "college students" together might conjure up images of bustling dining halls and late-night snacks.
But for many college students, food can be a significant source of stress.
On Wednesday, Senator Elizabeth Warren and Congressman Al Lawson introduced The College Student Hunger Act of 2019, which would expand SNAP benefits (or "food stamps") to include Pell Grant-eligible students and "independent students," such as those who are in foster care, who are veterans or who are homeless.
The legislation would also lower SNAP's current work requirement for college students to 10 hours per-week and require the Department of Education to inform low-income students about their potential SNAP eligibility.
"As more and more students struggle to pay for college, 30% may be going hungry," Warren tweeted. "Students shouldn't have to choose between paying tuition and eating."
Lawson echoed Warren in a statement. "The significant increase in college tuition over the last decade has forced students to make a choice between buying food or paying for books and housing expenditures. This bill will help to relieve some of that financial burden for them."
Temple University's Hope Center for College, Community and Justice surveyed nearly 86,000 college students from 123 schools and found that nearly half are "food insecure."
The survey found that 45% of respondents often or sometimes worry that they do not have money to buy food, worry that their food will run out before they have the money to buy more or that they can't afford balanced meals. A 2018 U.S Government Accountability Office report found that there are roughly 2 million college students in the U.S. who qualify for SNAP benefits but do not receive them.
Currently, SNAP eligibility varies from state to state, but most non-disabled college students between the ages of 18 and 49 do not qualify unless they meet requirements beyond traditional measures like income. For instance, some low-income students who have a disability or who are caregivers to a dependent household member can qualify for SNAP.
By adding students who receive Pell Grants and independent students to this list of SNAP eligible students, Warren and Lawson's bill could expand access to a huge swath of U.S. college students. The Department of Education reports that 32% of undergraduate college students receive Pell Grants, and roughly half of all undergraduate college students are considered independent, meaning they do not receive financial support from their parents.
And a college student's struggle to afford food can have a significant impact on their education. Today, just 60% of first-time full-time students earn a bachelor's degree in six years, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. "We can see very strong relationships between these issues and the chance that a student will get good grades so they keep their financial aid, to make it to the next semester, to make it to graduation," Sara Goldrick-Rab, professor at Temple University, and founder of the Hope Center, told CNBC Make It.
She also says that students who experience food and housing insecurity during college are less likely to excel after graduation, and therefore less likely to keep up with their student loan payments. "If you've been food insecure and or homeless for a period of college, the chances that you're okay and you're going to be a good employee are much smaller."
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