Photo Credits: JEREMY DANGER / AGGIE
“Food financial aid” becomes pertinent, half of students face food insecurity
California Assembly Bill 612 proposes the food benefit program, The CalFresh Program, be approved for all 114 California community colleges across the 72 districts. The bill intends to remedy the number of students battling food insecurity, or hunger, on college campuses.
“Now, students are struggling, and they have to make choices,” said Kamaljeet Khaira, the director of the UC CalFresh Nutrition Education Program. “Do I pay my tuition or do I pay for my housing or do I eat?”
In California, students inherently face rising tuition costs, high cost of living and high housing prices. According to the California Community College’s Basic Needs Survey Report, 56% of community college students faced food insecurity and 35% are experiencing housing insecurity.
“The fact that exists now is that more than half of our students have been food insecure over the last year,” said Larry Galizio, the president/CEO of the Community College League of California. “Just the astonishing and disturbing number of our students that have credibly precarious socioeconomic situations has galvanized the leadership and students.”
AB 612, authored by Assemblymember Shirley N. Weber, follows a slew of legislation in implementing CalFresh in the University of California and California State University campuses. Galizio noted that the success of the program at the Cal State and UC level inspired them to work with Weber as the chief sponsor of the bill for CalFresh at community colleges.
The bill aims to decrease the time to gain approval and implement the program as well as encourage more districts to participate in the anti-hunger movement.
“We saw that it was functional at the CSU level,” Galizio said. “And we thought we could significantly cut down the amount of time and effort that our 72 districts would have to go through in order to place this on their own campuses –– it just seemed to make good sense.”
The CalFresh program issues eligible, low-income individuals with a monthly budget in the form of an Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) card, which can be spent at select grocery stores and farmers markets.
“We think of it as food financial aid,” Galizio said. “We’re in the business of trying to help students afford to be able to attend college and make it more accessible.”
Also known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, CalFresh also promotes healthy eating with the UC CalFresh Nutrition Education Program.
“Not only do we want students to have food and not be hungry, but we want them to choose the foods that are healthy foods that prevent disease,” Khaira said. “We want healthy choices to be the available choice, the easy choice.”
On the UC Davis campus, the Aggie Compass, located in the Memorial Union, provides assistance with the CalFresh application and lists the qualifications to apply on its website. Around the corner, The Pantry provides students with basic necessities –– from food to sanitary products to soap –– for free with a three-point system. These establishments are meant to ease the financial transition into UC Davis for incoming first-year and transfer students.
“The community colleges are really made for students to be able to do college more affordably, but the sticker shock of the price of tuition is going to be hard for people,” Khaira said. “When students drop out of school or if they have to take two jobs and their school suffers, people are paying attention to that.”
Noah Isaac de Guzman, a third-year neurology, physiology and behavior major, transferred from a community college to UC Davis, and expressed the adjustments he made to his lifestyle due to the increase in tuition costs.
“I come from a place of privilege, but despite that information, now that I know I’m spending so much money on housing and tuition, I try to be more mindful of what I spend, especially with food,” Isaac de Guzman said. “For groceries, I look for the cheaper option, and I try not to eat out as much because every penny that I spend is an extra financial burden.”
Khaira conveyed the need for benefits to supply healthy foods to students and erasing the stigma surrounding food stamps.
“It really is the government’s obligation to support students to get them the education they need, and it’s a crime if somebody needs to drop out because they don’t have money to make ends meet,” Khaira said. “So if CalFresh can give them the money for food and they can spend their money on the academics, then that’s what we should be doing.”
Thus far, the bill has not faced any opposition with unanimous bipartisan support and will go to the Assembly side of the House for further approval, according to Galizio.
Written by: Renee Hoh — email@example.com