July 25, 2019

Harris Introduces BASIC Act to Help College Students Afford Basic Needs

WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Senator Kamala D. Harris (D-CA) on Tuesday introduced the Basic Assistance for Students In College (BASIC) Act, legislation to ensure that college students—particularly those receiving Pell Grants or attending a community college or minority-serving institution—are able to afford basic, day-to-day necessities. Co-sponsors of the BASIC Act include U.S. Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA).

According to a recent Government Accountability Office report, more than 30% of college students may face food insecurity. At HBCUs in particular, students often live in food deserts where they lack convenient access to grocery stores or restaurants. This issue is particularly pronounced among community college students: a recent survey by the HOPE Center found that two-thirds of community college students are food insecure and half are housing insecure, including 14 percent who have experienced homelessness. Students and institutions alike have been grappling with how the cost of basic necessities presents significant barriers to student welfare and academic success.

“No student, no matter their circumstances, should have to worry about going hungry or keeping a roof over their head,” said Harris. “We cannot accept a status quo in which young people seeking a higher education are unable to afford life’s necessities. I’m proud to introduce the BASIC Act to make sure every college student can focus on learning above all else.”

The BASIC Act would:

  • Establish a $500 million competitive grant program to help institutions of higher education identify and meet the basic needs of students, including food, housing, transportation, child care, health care, and technology.

  • Require at least 25% of grants to go to community colleges. Grant priority will also go to institutions with 25% or higher Pell enrollment, HBCUs, and other minority-serving institutions.

  • Requires the Department of Education to coordinate with the Departments of Agriculture, Housing & Urban Development, and Health & Human Services to develop and implement an agreement to:  
    • Securely share data to identify current students who may be eligible for federal means-tested programs, including SNAP, SSI, TANF, WIC, Medicaid, and federal housing assistance; and
    • Coordinate efforts to help institutions of higher education enroll eligible students in these programs. 

Supporters of the BASIC Act include the American Association of Community Colleges, American Student Association of Community Colleges, Association of Community College Trustees, Center for Law and Social Policy, Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities, Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice, MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger, National Alliance to End Homelessness, NASPA – Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education, Thurgood Marshall College Fund, California Community Colleges, University of California, and the University of California Student Association.

“College affordability and accessibility are not just about helping students cover tuition and book costs, but also providing critical support for their overall wellbeing, including access to nutritious food, affordable housing and reliable healthcare. I applaud this tremendous, bold effort to combat the challenges our students face by equipping colleges and universities across the country with the funding and resources to help meet students’ basic needs. Such innovative proposals bring practical solutions to real problems and bring to the forefront important issues such as housing and food insecurity that require collective approaches and solutions,” said Janet Napolitano, President of the University of California.

“The Basic Assistance for Students in College (BASIC) Act is a bold step that addresses longstanding disconnects between higher education and human services agencies and will improve the lives of students with low incomes. The BASIC Act not only requires data sharing between federal agencies, but also provides grants so postsecondary institutions can connect students to resources that reduce barriers—such as health issues, transportation, food insecurity, and other needs neglected by traditional financial aid—that often lead to dropping out. By recognizing the “whole student” beyond the classroom, this bill’s approach is critically important for postsecondary students who may lack other financial supports including students with low incomes, students of color, first-generation students, and student parents. CLASP commends Senator Harris for introducing the BASIC Act and for her commitment to improving access to education that will lead to rewarding careers and enduring economic mobility for all students,” said Olivia Golden, Executive Director, Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP).

“On college campuses around the country, students struggle with high costs of tuition and student housing, mounting student loan debt, and perhaps the greatest threat to their well-being and academic success: hunger. In our years of advocacy on this issue, MAZON has pressed for more comprehensive data on the scope of food insecurity on campuses so that Congress can establish meaningful solutions to ensure that students receive the help they need. We are grateful to Senator Harris for her leadership in introducing the BASIC Act. This bill makes significant advancements in addressing campus hunger by requiring data sharing between federal agencies and establishing a basic needs grant program for students who struggle with hunger and other challenges,” said Abby J. Leibman, President & CEO of MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger.

“Colleges across the country increasingly recognize that students are humans first— they need to eat in order to learn. But institutions need support building their capacity to address food insecurity, and that’s what makes Senator Harris’s bill so important. It’s the right investment at the right time,” said Sara Goldrick-Rab, Founding Director, Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice.

“This proposed bill would address a critical issue facing low-income students who are enrolled in college. We know that significant barriers exist that often prevent low-income students from entering college and then making progress towards a degree. As our economy continues to rely on skilled workers with some level of a college credential, and increasingly on continuing education throughout an individual’s career, it is important for our federal aid programs to preserve access and ensure flexibility to support tomorrow’s students, including adequate resources to meet students’ basic food and housing needs,” said Kevin Kruger, President of the NASPA – Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education.

For full bill text, click here.