Texas Food Banks Urge Legislators to Fight College Hunger, Improve Graduation Rates

The Feeding Texas network, made up of 21 food banks across the state, is calling on state legislators to address hunger on college campuses in a virtual day of advocacy.

The inability to afford basic needs is the number one reason cited by community college students for not completing their education. Even with tuition aid, 38% of students at two-year colleges and 29% of students at four-year universities experience hunger, according to a recent #RealCollege survey.

“We know that some college students in our area are skipping meals and only eating once a day because it’s difficult for them to afford food and pay for school,” said Dennis Cullinane, CEO of the East Texas Food Bank. “It’s difficult to pay attention in class when you are hungry.”

“College students should not have to choose between food and education,” said Celia Cole, CEO of Feeding Texas. “The legislature must act to ensure students can access the food assistance they need to finish their degrees and go on to gainful employment.”

Sen. Royce West and Rep. Armando Walle filed companion bills in the Senate (SB557) and House (HB 1501) that would instruct the Texas Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) to identify college degree programs that are vocational or technical in nature so that students enrolled in these programs can receive SNAP benefits.

“Our workforce depends on students graduating with the skills and training they need to succeed,” Sen. West said. “College tuition costs are rising, and with current inflation, so are the costs of housing, food, and other necessities. Eliminating hunger on Texas college campuses is critical to ensure our workforce remains strong and our future leaders thrive.”

Though federal policy severely restricts access to SNAP for college students, Congress made changes to guarantee food assistance for more students during the pandemic. However, this policy will expire when the Public Health Emergency ends in May, and thousands of students could lose their SNAP benefits at recertification.

“A simple change in policy would allow low-income students in vocational and technical degree programs to access SNAP while they pursue their educational goals,” Rep. Walle said. “Improving short-term food assistance would help thousands of Texas students along their path to economic self-sufficiency. This legislation is a win-win and makes good business sense for Texas.”