A state assemblymember introduced a new bill that would make it easier for college students to qualify for food stamps.
Assemblymember Shirley Weber introduced Assembly Bill 214, which would require the California Student Aid Commission to provide written notice to Cal Grant recipients who are qualified to participate in the CalFresh program, federally known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
Students enrolled in certain employment training programs, such as the Educational Opportunity Program, College Disabled Students Programs and Services and the McNair Scholars programs of the University of California, could also receive CalFresh benefits even if they do not meet other eligibility rules for the program.
“A lot of low-income students have difficulty accessing anti-hunger programs because of unclearly written policies,” Weber said in a statement. “This bill is aimed at clarifying those policies and (streamlining) student access to programs that would help them alleviate food insecurity.”
To receive CalFresh benefits, students must be employed at least 20 hours a week or meet one of the several exemptions, such as caring for dependent children, participating in job training programs or participating in work-study.
Ryan Woolsey, a policy analyst in the California Legislative Analyst’s Office, said the bill aims to make it clear to students that they can take advantage of those exemptions.
According to a 2016 UC Student Food Access and Security Study, 42 percent of UC students reported having experienced a reduced quality of diet or reduced food intake in the past 12 months.
Different food assistance programs on campus are implemented to address food insecurity for low-income students, said Antonio Sandoval, director of the Community Programs Office. Such programs include the CPO Food Closet, Swipe Out Hunger’s food gleanings and the undergraduate student government Facilities Commission’s food recovery efforts.
Sandoval also said the UCLA Food Security Working Group is funding interns this year that will help publicize CalFresh and encourage students to sign up for the program.
If AB 214 is implemented, Sandoval said the CPO would collaborate with Associated Students UCLA and the UCLA Financial Aid and Scholarships office on getting the word out about the CalFresh program’s benefits.
Tyler Watson, a graduate student researcher in the UCLA Food Security Working Group, said the group has several strategies to help students get enough food, but expanding CalFresh outreach and enrollment is a critical goal.
“(CalFresh) can provide much needed financial resources to students in need – an individual can receive up to $194 per month for food,” Watson said. “Only about 1 percent of UCLA students are currently enrolled in CalFresh.”
Watson added one of the goals of the working group is to notify all work-study students that they are eligible for CalFresh.
“If passed by the state legislature, this bill will make mandatory a very important goal of the working group,” Watson said. “I anticipate that the bill would greatly help increase CalFresh awareness and enrollment at UCLA and other campuses across California.”
Young Invincibles, a nonprofit organization that works to expand economic opportunity for young people, is one of the organizations that co-sponsored the bill.
“We think the bill is a step in the right direction, but we recognize that food insecurity and college hunger are just other examples which show the consequence of rising tuition and college costs for young adults today,” said Christopher Nellum, Young Invincible’s policy director.
He added the organization has tried to streamline the ways students can access the CalFresh program.
“For us, long-term success would mean that all students are able to focus on being successful in school, not where their next meal is coming from,” Nellum said.
Some students said they support the bill because students bear a lot of pressure in paying for food when they already struggle with meeting other costs.
Gabriela Capasso, a third-year English student, said that she thinks it is important to notify people about their eligibility for the CalFresh program.
“I am very surprised that students are not notified if they qualify for food stamps already,’’ Capasso said.
Capasso said she thinks students should be educated more on financial aid and other benefits granted by state and federal fundings.
‘’I feel like I don’t know enough about the grants we receive, and it is important to let (financial aid recipients) know what we qualify for,” Capasso said.
Kevin Brown, a fourth-year African-American studies student said he thinks student workers who already struggle to pay tuition and housing could use the help CalFresh provides.
“I know many people (who would think it useful) finding food stamps as a student worker,” Brown said.
Contributing reports from Dina Stumpf and Alexandra Tryggvadottir, Daily Bruin contributors.