April 23, 2020

Harris, Warren, Murphy Push to Ensure College Students Have Food on the Table Amid COVID-19 Crisis

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Kamala D. Harris (D-CA), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and Chris Murphy (D-CT) on Thursday sent a letter to Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer pushing to help college students access critical nutrition assistance by allowing Disaster Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (D-SNAP) to be triggered during a pandemic. College students across the nation have been struggling with food insecurity long before the COVID-19 outbreak. The crisis has amplified the need to ensure college students don’t go hungry. Last year, Senator Harris, along with Senator Warren, introduced the BASIC Act to help college students afford basic necessities– including food. Last month, Senator Harris introduced the Pandemic Disaster Assistance Act to expand the ability of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to provide Individual Assistance, including D-SNAP, during a pandemic.  

“College students across the nation are facing unprecedented challenges amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. For many, shuttered campuses have exacerbated their food insecurity. In 2019, 39% of America’s college students reported being food insecure within the past 30 days. Food insecurity is more common among students attending two-year and community colleges, and disproportionately affects Black, Latinx, and Indigenous students, students who are parenting, and students who have been in foster care,” said the lawmakers. “Many college communities have woven a safety net for food-insecure students with food pantries, on-campus meal provision, and similar programs, but many of those services are inaccessible during this pandemic due to social distancing and campus shutdowns.”

They continued, “College students were among the first to experience substantial changes as the nation worked to combat the COVID-19 pandemic. As policymakers, we must bolster protections for our most vulnerable college students during this uncertain time. Opening D-SNAP to college students would ensure their immediate needs are met. We thank you for your urgent attention to this matter.”

Along with Harris, Warren, and Murphy, the letter was signed by Senators Booker (D-NJ), Blumenthal (D-CT), Durbin (D-IL), Bennet (D-CO), Markey (D-MA), Baldwin (D-WI), Sanders (D-VT), Leahy (D-VT), Kaine (D-VA), Menendez (D-NJ), Wyden (D-OR), Warner (D-VA), Hirono (D-HI), Smith (D-MN), Duckworth (D-IL), and Rosen (D-NV).

Full text of the letter can be found here and below.

April 23, 2020

The Honorable Mitch McConnell

Majority Leader

United States Senate

Washington, D.C. 20510

The Honorable Charles Schumer

Minority Leader

United States Senate

Washington, D.C. 20510

 

 

Dear Leader McConnell and Leader Schumer:

As you consider an additional emergency recovery package in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and its devastating impacts, we urge you to address the crucial nutrition needs of college students by qualifying the Disaster Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (D-SNAP) as an eligible form of Individual Assistance during a pandemic under the Stafford Act. 

College students across the nation are facing unprecedented challenges amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. For many, shuttered campuses have exacerbated their food insecurity. In 2019, 39% of America’s college students reported being food insecure within the past 30 days. Food insecurity is more common among students attending two-year and community colleges, and disproportionately affects Black, Latinx, and Indigenous students, students who are parenting, and students who have been in foster care. Many college communities have woven a safety net for food-insecure students with food pantries, on-campus meal provision, and similar programs, but many of those services are inaccessible during this pandemic due to social distancing and campus shutdowns. Dozens of states have sought waivers of college student eligibility rules under the broad authorities given to USDA in the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. The USDA, however, has denied these waivers.

Unfortunately, SNAP benefits are often inaccessible to college students. College students are presumed to be ineligible for SNAP unless they meet a set of specific eligibility criteria, such as working at least 20 hours per week, participating in Federal Work Study, or having dependent children under age 12. These high eligibility criteria leave many food-insecure college students ineligible for SNAP benefits. Additionally, many eligible college students do not avail themselves of SNAP benefits—a 2018 GAO report found that SNAP failed to serve almost 60% of eligible students.

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, students have lost on- and off-campus campus employment and can no longer fulfill the SNAP 20-hour work requirement. Thus, even the few students who could access benefits are now ineligible for SNAP benefits. While the Families First Coronavirus Response Act suspended work requirements for adults, it did not change the strict requirements for students. In addition, as students move back in with family members, those households now have extra mouths to feed and aren’t able to access extra funds. We can address the unique needs of these families and food insecure college students by making D-SNAP available for students affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Congress can do this by amending the Stafford Act and qualifying D-SNAP under Individual Assistance during pandemics, similar to the Pandemic Disaster Assistance Act.

D-SNAP was created to meet immediate food needs during times of disaster. There is no doubt that the current crisis is causing closures and disruptions similar to those caused by a hurricane or an earthquake, but on a national scale. D-SNAP would apply to college students who are employed or unemployed, and to those who have dropped out due to the challenges of remote learning as long as they meet income requirements. For those already enrolled in SNAP, it provides the maximum SNAP benefit. Additionally, D-SNAP provides flexibility for program requirements including waiving in-person interviews and document signing, allowing applicants to follow social distancing guidelines. Furthermore, states already have an existing infrastructure to implement D-SNAP during natural disasters, which would allow students to access these crucial resources more quickly.

College students were among the first to experience substantial changes as the nation worked to combat the COVID-19 pandemic. As policymakers, we must bolster protections for our most vulnerable college students during this uncertain time. Opening D-SNAP to college students would ensure their immediate needs are met. We thank you for your urgent attention to this matter.

Sincerely,

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