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Warren, Sanders Call For Expanding Food Aid To College Students

Democrats in the House and Senate are introducing legislation Tuesday that would make pandemic-related food benefits for college students permanent. The push is being led by Sens. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Bernie Sanders, a Vermont independent.

In the December relief package, Congress increasedthe number of low-income college students eligible for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits for the duration of the pandemic. That included students who are eligible for work study, have an expected family contribution of zero dollars, or qualify for a maximum Pell Grant on their federal financial aid form. According to The Century Foundation, this expansion affects about 3 million college students.

The legislation proposed Tuesday would make these changes permanent, including requiring the U.S. Education Department to notify students that they may be eligible for SNAP when they fill out their student aid applications. The bill would also require the department to collect data on hunger and food insecurity and would create a $1 billion-a-year grant program for institutions to address hunger on campus.

"Far too many college students struggle to meet their basic needs while they get their education and the pandemic has made this problem even worse," Warren said in a statement to NPR. "As students take on a mountain of student loan debt, they shouldn't have to choose between paying tuition and eating."

The push comes amid new research that shows 39% of two-year college students are facing food insecurity; for students at four-year schools the number affected is 29%, according to Temple University's Hope Center for College, Community and Justice.

Before the pandemic, in 2019, the U.S. Government Accountability Officeissued a report on hunger among college students,concluding that more than a third of students don't always have enough to eat and that federal systems already in place, including SNAP, could do a better job of helping them.

Many colleges have increased food benefits for their students, creating or expanding emergency grants, food pantries and other forms of assistance. State legislatures in several places including Virginiaand Massachusetts have also moved to address issues of hunger on campus.

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Elissa Nadworny
Elissa Nadworny reports on all things college for NPR, following big stories like unprecedented enrollment declines, college affordability, the student debt crisis and workforce training. During the 2020-2021 academic year, she traveled to dozens of campuses to document what it was like to reopen during the coronavirus pandemic. Her work has won several awards including a 2020 Gracie Award for a story about student parents in college, a 2018 James Beard Award for a story about the Chinese-American population in the Mississippi Delta and a 2017 Edward R. Murrow Award for excellence in innovation.
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