Democrats introduce legislation to help students meet basic needs
One day during the last year of college, Byanca Moore realized she needed help. The rising junior from Le Moyne College in Syracuse, NY, had medical bills to pay and no food to eat. So she turned to the college’s Jesuit Fund, which provides students with up to $ 500 in emergency funding. Moore asked for help and received what she needed.
“They look after the students and see what needs you need,” Moore said. “It was helpful.”
But the Jesuit Fund is only a quick fix, Moore noted. She and her classmates facing financial problems are more in need of a long-term solution.
That’s what Rep. Norma Torres, a Democrat from California, realized when she saw one of her sons making four sandwiches for a two-hour class at the community college he attended.
“I look at him like, ‘Are you going to eat all this?'” Torres said. Inside higher education. “And he said, ‘No, not for me, mom. There are so many children who are there all day but have no money to eat, so I prepare them for them.
According to the most recent Basic Needs Survey from the Hope Center for College, Community and Justice, nearly three in five of the 195,000 students who responded said they had experienced basic needs insecurity, as defined by the Hope Center. like the lack of an ecosystem in place. which ensures that the needs of students – such as access to sufficient food, safe housing, healthcare and affordable technology and transportation – are met. Thirty-nine percent of two-year college students and 29 percent of four-year colleges experienced food insecurity, and a total of 48 percent of students experienced housing insecurity.
Students of color were more likely to experience basic needs insecurity than their white peers. For students at two- and four-year institutions, 75 percent of Indigenous students, 70 percent of black students, and 64 percent of Hispanic or Latino students experienced basic needs insecurity, compared to 54 percent of white students.
“Students cannot choose between covering their tuition and non-tuition fees,” said Mamie Voight, interim president of the Institute for Higher Education Policy. “These expenses other than tuition can be a real barrier for students trying to succeed in college.”
After speaking with students and learning how many of them struggle to meet their basic needs, Torres introduced the Basic University Student Assistance Act, or BASIC Act, to the House in 2019, the Senator Kamala Harris taking the lead in the Senate project. An updated version of the legislation was introduced by Torres in early June, with Senator Elizabeth Warren, Democrat of Massachusetts, and Senator Alex Padilla, Democrat of California, taking over the bill in the Senate. So far, the bills lack support from Republicans.
“The last thing a student should have to worry about is where their next meal is going to come from,” Torres said. “They should be worried about studying, their next class, and doing their homework.”
The BASIC law would establish a billion dollar grant program to help higher education institutions identify and meet the needs of their students, including food, housing, transportation, child care. children and technology. It authorizes $ 40 million for two-year planning grants to help colleges and universities conduct research and plan to meet the unmet basic needs of their students and provides $ 960 million for start-up grants. implemented over five years to institutions to develop a basic needs infrastructure.
The legislation provides for several ways to use the funding, such as providing free or subsidized food, providing temporary accommodation, helping students apply for public aid programs, or working with community organizations. At least 25 percent of planning and implementation grants would be needed to go to community colleges, with priority given to institutions serving minorities and those that enroll 25 percent or more of their students as grantees. of Pell Grants.
The bill would also facilitate data sharing between federal agencies – including the departments of Education, Agriculture, Housing and Urban Development, and Health and Human Services – to identify students who could be eligible for federal assistance and help them access programs like the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, Medicaid, Supplemental Income Security, and federal housing assistance and child care programs.
“That’s why the programs exist – to help people meet their basic needs,” Voight said. “And we have to make sure that students can actually access it. Sharing the data would allow that to happen.
BASIC is approved by more than a dozen organizations, including the American Association of Community Colleges, the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities, IHEP, and the Hope Center.
Momentum has been building over the past five years for a federal-level solution to the challenges facing students, said Carrie Welton, director of advocacy and policy at the Hope Center. And it’s important to see leaders in the federal government recognize and lift the basic needs barriers facing students, Voight said.
“It has become increasingly recognized as a significant problem, and it makes a lot of sense when you think about the needs of our economy,” Welton said. “The vast majority of new jobs created require some form of post-secondary education.
This issue is largely related to completion and national competitiveness, Voight said. If students are unable to graduate or graduate from post-secondary education because they cannot meet their basic needs, then the United States will not have an educated population capable of competing on the world stage.
“If we are to meet the completion goals, if we are to meet our competitiveness goals and if we are to ensure that students can benefit from post-secondary education, then we need to address these non-tuition costs for students, ”Voight said.
Any federal support that can help institutions establish infrastructure for basic needs would be welcomed by Marcheta Evans, President of Bloomfield College in Bloomfield, NJ Bloomfield College has been a Hispanic institution and the only predominantly black institution in New Jersey for four years. . The median family income for New Jersey college students is just over $ 30,000.
“It’s been a big struggle for them,” Evans said. “Many of my students, before the pandemic, faced food insecurity and housing insecurity. “
During the pandemic, Bloomfield College decided not to close its campus completely, as many students had to stay in housing on campus. The college was able to use CARES Act funding to help meet the technological needs of students, and it has two on-campus pantries that are maintained through donations. It has been helpful for the students, but the college could always use more resources to do more for them, Evans said.
“If your body isn’t nourished, it’s hard to nourish your mind,” Evans said. “Getting our students to make sure their basic needs are met – this has to be the # 1 priority.
Padilla is pushing for the BASIC Act to be included in a reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, but it’s unclear if that will happen at the 117th Congress. In the meantime, Padilla is working to include a $ 20 million basic needs pilot program in the language of appropriations for fiscal year 2022.
“As the poverty crisis among university and graduate students continues to grow, the BASIC law is a crucial step in expanding access to higher education by ensuring that students do not go hungry or go hungry. struggling to get hold of basic necessities, “Padilla said in a statement to Inside higher education.
And while students were able to receive additional federal support during the COVID-19 pandemic through the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund, Moore stressed that an end of the pandemic will not mean an end to affordability challenges facing students.
“It will still be a challenge for us in a few years,” said Moore. “There are a lot of black and brown students like me who need attention and help. If I need to reach out, I’ll reach out, and I want there to be something to reach out to us, because it’s necessary.