WASHINGTON – Congresswoman Jahana Hayes (CT-05) introduced two bills to address hunger among college students and school-age children: the Closing the College Hunger Gap Act and the School Modernization and Efficient Access to Lunches for Students Act, also known as the School MEALS Act. Combined, the two bills would take monumental steps to eliminate food insecurity among children and young adults, nationally.
The Closing the College Hunger Gap Act would direct the Secretary of Education to notify college students of their eligibility for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) using Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) information. The School MEALS Act would make several improvements to direct certification for free meals without the need for household applications.
“Any level of food insecurity among children and college students is morally reprehensible and must be addressed,” said Congresswoman Hayes. “We can never again allow hunger to reach the astronomical levels we saw in 2020. Although Congress responded by strengthening nutrition programs, 1 in 5 Connecticut children still experienced food insecurity, and over one-third of college students reported knowing someone who dropped out of college because of lack of access to proper and stable nutrition. I have seen the impact of hunger and recognize that hungry children do not learn. It is our responsibility to ensure all students have the confidence of knowing where their next meal is coming from. My bills would provide critical, commonsense improvements to federal nutrition programs, helping to ensure no Connecticut child or college student goes to bed hungry.”
Hunger among Connecticut children and college students has been a persistent problem, however food insecurity levels spiked due to conditions created by the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2020, child hunger climbed by six percent in Connecticut. The improvement of direct certification addresses the problem by easing the process through which children are automatically approved for free and reduced-price lunch at school.
Additionally, college student hunger soared during COVID-19. After the start of the pandemic, 38 percent of students said they regularly missed meals because they were less hungry or stressed, and 36 percent of students reported knowing someone who has dropped out due to food insecurity during the pandemic. Prior to the pandemic, college students already faced disturbing levels of food insecurity. Nearly a quarter of students at the University of Connecticut reported concerns of food insecurity and around 30 percent reported skipping meals to save money. Eighteen percent of the student body at Connecticut State Colleges and Universities reported housing instability or homelessness.
Instability amongst college students is exacerbated by a lack of awareness of eligibility for nutrition assistance programs. A recent Government Accountability Office (GAO) study showed that over two million at-risk students – inclusive of first-generation students, students raising children, or low-income students – whom were potentially eligible for SNAP benefits did not report receiving benefits in recent years. The Closing the College Hunger Gap Act ensures that all students are informed of their potential eligibility for the SNAP program through the information they report during the FAFSA process.
These bills are endorsed by: End Hunger CT, CT Foodshare, Food Research & Action Center, MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger, and Feeding America.
Congresswoman Jahana Hayes sits on the Committees on Education & Labor and Agriculture and proudly represents Connecticut’s 5th District. She was a public school teacher in Connecticut for more than 15 years and was recognized in 2016 as the National Teacher of the Year.