Newsom signs bill to end college student hunger

By: Cynthia Solis

Governor Gavin Newsom recently signed Assembly Bill (AB) 396 to help feed thousands of California students struggling to put food on the table. 

The bill will essentially require public colleges and universities to seek a certificate from the California Department of Social Services (CDSS) so students enrolled in qualifying jobs and training programs will gain access to CalFresh. 

The CalFresh Program issues monthly electronic benefits that can be used to buy most foods at grocery stores. According to the CDSS, the program was established “to improve the health and well-being of qualified households and individuals by providing them a means to meet their nutritional needs.” 

The bill was written by Assembly member Jesse Gabriel, who is the democratic representation for Woodlawn Hills. In regards to the bill, Gabriel said, “It’s shameful that so many young people in California go to bed hungry at night.” 

Currently, college students are not eligible to receive CalFresh unless they work a minimum of 20 hours a week or their situation falls within one of several exemptions. Once AB 396 takes effect, it will allow students who participate in internships, apprenticeships, and on-the-job training to claim the benefits. 

Unfortunately, according to the CDSS, a little more than 250 Employment and Training (E&T) services are approved under the exemption. The problem thereby lies that the California Community College system has over 9,000 potentially qualifying programs. 

Although it will take some time, CSU Chancellor Joseph Castro seems hopeful that the bill will streamline how CSU certifies their academic programs. Hence, they can participate in the E&T pathway so more students can have access to CalFresh benefits. He said, “Removing a barrier to success so that they can achieve their personal, academic, and career goals, as well as help California meet its future workforce needs.”

This bill will do great things for college students. Currently, there is a high prevalence of hunger and food insecurity found on college and university campuses all over California. In fact, according to the California Student Aid Commission, 1 in 3 California college students are affected by food and housing insecurities. 

COVID-19 has done nothing but make the problem harder for California college and university students. As the pandemic struck, college campuses were forced to close their doors. As a result, students lost their jobs, and the campuses could not provide enough resources, forcing them to fall short of their needs. 

Students are excited to know the requirements are changing. Yun (Raina) Zhao​​, UC Student Association Campaigns Chair and UC Berkeley student, said, “Students should have the freedom to be a student and focus on their education without the added stress of meeting their basic needs, yet the unfortunate reality is that food insecurity continues to impact too many college students in California.”

The bill outlines what the school has to do to get the approval they need for each program. Not only that, every year starting September 1, 2023, until 2030, schools must meet annually with the Assembly Committee on Higher Education, the Assembly Committee on Human Services, the Senate Committee on Education, and the Senate Committee on Human Services to report the following:

  • The number of state-approved campus-based local education program
  • The number of pending applications
  • The number of applications denied

The school is also required to post the information on its school website. 

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