Reps. Gomez, Harder, and Panetta Introduce Legislation to Permanently Expand SNAP Benefits to College Students

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Congressman Jimmy Gomez (CA-34), along with Congressmen Josh Harder (CA-10) and Jimmy Panetta (CA-20), introduced legislation to address the growing crisis of food insecurity among college students. H.R. 1919, the Enhance Access to SNAP Act (or EATS Act) would permanently expand Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) eligibility to millions of college students experiencing hunger on a daily basis.

“Breaking down barriers to higher education extends far beyond making college affordable, especially for first-generation students and students of color,” said Congressman Gomez. “If we ignore the hunger crisis on campuses nationwide, we are setting this generation of students up for failure. The EATS Act is a necessary step to provide an equitable, healthy learning environment for all of our country’s bright young minds.”

"No student should have to sit in class too worried about their next meal to focus on the lesson in front of them," said Congressman Harder. "This bill will make sure that college students qualify for the benefits they need while they're enrolled in school. It's time to make sure our students aren't going hungry."

“Although the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program is our country’s best defense against hunger, many college students are excluded from accessing its benefits,” said Congressman Panetta. “The EATS Act updates the program’s eligibility requirements so that students don’t have to choose between investing in their academic success and putting food on their table.  Our legislation will ensure that impacted students can access the healthy food they need to thrive in school.”

In December 2020, Congress temporarily expanded SNAP eligibility to students who qualify for federal work-study or have no Expected Family Contribution to their higher education costs. The EATS Act would permanently expand SNAP eligibility by amending the Food and Nutrition Act to include, “attending an institution of higher education,” as a form of qualification similar to work.

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, roughly 25 percent of college students were experiencing food insecurity. Due to housing instability and high rates of unemployment, plus existing socioeconomic and racial disparities, that figure now underrepresents the severity of the student hunger crisis. In California, the EATS Act would make more than 300,000 students newly eligible for SNAP.

“We cannot ignore the reality that too many of our students struggle to meet their basic needs, including food insecurity, which disproportionately impacts our students of color and low-income students," said Chancellor Eloy Oakley of California Community Colleges. "As a major barrier to success in the California Community Colleges system, we are tackling this issue head-on at the state and campus level, but we need federal support. The EATS Act would give states and campuses a critical tool to fight student hunger, by expanding eligibility for SNAP benefits (also known as CalFresh) on a permanent basis. The California Community Colleges are pleased to support this measure and look forward to working with congressional leaders to ensure its passage – because hunger should not be an impediment to any student’s ability to attend and succeed in college.”

"A student’s academic success in college hinges on their basic needs being met, such as housing and food," said the University of California Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs, Michael T. Brown, Ph.D. "The University of California welcomes the EATS Act, which improves access to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and provides additional student support to mitigate hunger, a serious problem in higher education nationally. Existing SNAP regulations are particularly harmful to many first-generation and non-traditional students who study full-time while struggling with basic needs;  it is, therefore, important that we ensure equitable access to basic-needs assistance. UC welcomes Congressman Gomez's work to address this critical issue."

“College students are our nation’s future. Low-income students are often first-generation, the parents of small children, and work incredible hours to study and pay their bills. Food banks across California work with higher education institutions by supporting pantries, SNAP outreach, and other ways to fight college hunger. They know first-hand that the best thing to do to support a student's basic need for food is to remove the college student SNAP rule once and for all," said Andrew Cheyne, Director of Government Affairs, California Association of Food Banks, "We are proud to stand with the multi-sector coalition behind Rep. Gomez’s leadership proposing this critical change in the EATS Act. With the temporary college SNAP expansion successfully underway, California is all in to end college hunger and truly invest in our state's future. ”

“College has become increasingly unaffordable for students who are burdened with significant increases to tuition and the costs of living associated with attending school. Students with low incomes are too often forced to choose between necessary school supplies and basic needs like food,” said Christopher Sanchez, Policy Advocate with Western Center on Law and Poverty. “We need to help pave the way for students on their road to success, not lead them down on a road to debt and hunger. The EATS Act will ensure that no student has to rely on scrap change from couch cushions to buy subpar meals, instead, they will have access to nutritious food options to help fuel their education in more ways than one.”

To read the full text of the legislation, please click here. 

The following organizations have endorsed the EATS Act: Alameda County Community Food Bank, Associated Students of the University of California, Bread for the World, Cal State Student Association, California, Association of Food Banks, California Community Colleges, California Food Policy Advocates, California Homeless Youth Project, California Hunger Action Coalition, California Work & Family Coalition, Center for Civil Justice, Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP), Center for Public Policy Priorities, Child Care Law Center, Coalition of California Welfare Rights Organizations, Colorado Center on Law and Policy, County Welfare Directors Association (CWDA) of California , Equal Rights Advocates (ERA), Faith Action Network of WA State, Feeding America, Feeding San Diego, Florida Legal Services, Inc., Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano, Food Bank of Northern Nevada, Food Bank of Western Massachusetts, Food for People, Food Lifeline, Food Research & Action Center (FRAC), Hawaii Appleseed Center for Law and Economic Justice, Hope Center for College, Community and Justice (Temple University), Hunger Action LA, Hunger Free Colorado, Jewish Family Services of Los Angeles, Kentucky Equal Justice Center, Los Angeles Community Action Network (LACAN), Massachusetts Law Reform Institute, Maternal and Child Health Access, MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger, Mississippi Center for Justice, National Alliance on Mental Illness-Texas, National Association of County Human Services Administrators, National Association of Social Workers (NASW) – California, National Skills Coalition, Northwest Harvest, OC Food Bank, Oregon Food Bank, Parent Voices – California, Partners for a Hunger-Free Oregon, Partnership for Los Angeles Schools, Pasadena City College, Rise Together, San Diego Hunger Coalition, San Francisco & Marin County Food Bank, SC Appleseed Legal Justice Center, Second Harvest Food Bank of Santa Cruz County, Second Harvest of Silicon Valley, SEIU – California, Shriver Center on Poverty Law, Skills2Compete-Colorado, Southern California College Access Network, Swipe Out Hunger, The Greater Boston Food Bank, The Kohala Center – Hawaii, The Tennessee Justice Center, Three Square Food Bank, uAspire, University of California Student Association, University of California Los Angeles, Vermont Legal Aid, Inc., Voices for Progress, Washington Anti-Hunger & Nutrition Coalition, Western Center on Law & Poverty, Women Foundation of California, Young Invincibles, National Association of Social Workers, and Los Angeles United Methodist Urban Foundation.

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