Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren want to make pandemic-era food benefits for college students permanent

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Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren want to make pandemic-era food benefits for college students permanent
Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA).Getty/Tasos Katopodis
  • Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren introduced a bill to fight food insecurity on college campuses.
  • The bill would make permanent the expansion of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits.
  • 3 million college students rely on SNAP benefits, which supplement food budgets of low-income families.

Last week, Democrats introduced a bill to make the pandemic-era policy of free school lunches for all kids grades K-12 permanent. Now they want to extend the pandemic-era food benefits that apply to college students, as well.

On Tuesday, a group of lawmakers, led by Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, introduced the Student Food Security Act of 2021, which addresses food insecurity on college campuses by making the pandemic expansion of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) permanent, along with pushing the government and states to take a more proactive role in combatting food insecurity.

SNAP is a US Department of Agriculture program that supplements the food budgets of low-income families, and according to The Century Foundation, the pandemic expansion of the program affects about 3 million college students.

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"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. "As students take on a mountain of student loan debt, they shouldn't have to choose between paying tuition and eating. Our bill will ensure college students can succeed without going hungry."

A 2018 Government Accountability Office report found that more than 30% of college students are food insecure and almost 60% of eligible college students did not receive SNAP benefits. And while the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021 temporarily expanded access to SNAP benefits for college students during COVID-19, the lawmakers leading the bill argue a permanent expansion is needed.

Other main elements of the bill include:

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  • Increasing low-income college students' eligibility for SNAP;
  • Requiring the Education Department to notify students who may be eligible for the benefits while collecting data on food and housing insecurity;
  • And establishing a $1 billion per year grant program to help schools meet the food and housing security needs of their students.

Sanders, who led the introduction of this bill, also introduced the Universal School Meals Program Act of 2021 last week, which would make free schools meals a permanent option for all kids grades K-12 - a program the USDA temporarily extended through early next year.

"Every college student deserves a quality education free of hunger," Sanders said in a statement. "In the richest country in the world, it is an outrage that college students struggle with hunger every day. Enough is enough. We must eradicate hunger on college campuses."

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