California Senate bill could help thousands of college students enroll in CalFresh

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California SB 173, an effort by state Sen. Bill Dodd, D-Napa, to increase enrollment of college students in CalFresh, unanimously passed in the Assembly’s Human Services Committee on Tuesday, according to a press release from the senator’s office.

CalFresh, California’s supplemental nutrition assistance program, offers recipients an electronic benefit transfer, or EBT, card, which they can use at any grocery store or farmers market that accepts EBT, according to the California Department of Social Services website.

Under current law, students enrolled in a federal or California work-study program qualify for CalFresh. The bill would require that California community colleges and universities notify any student accepted into a work-study program of their eligibility and that a streamlined process for applicants be created.

According to the press release, the need for the bill stems in part from the number of students going hungry on college campuses.

“Hunger is a serious problem on California college campuses today,” Dodd said in the press release. “My bill will ensure students of modest means don’t go hungry by making it easier for them to receive public assistance.”

Dodd is not the only one concerned with hunger on college campuses.

Erika Weissinger, a visiting assistant professor at UC Berkeley’s Goldman School of Public Policy, concurs that hunger is a major issue affecting college campuses. Weissinger has many students who have to work long hours to support their families and pay rent. According to Weissinger, there is no way they can afford “healthy and consistent meals.”

A spokesperson for Dodd, Paul Payne, said the bureaucratic nature of the enrollment process leads to a lack of enrollment in the CalFresh program. According to Payne, many students are thus unable to get the assistance they need to have a reliable source of nutritious food.

According to the press release, a U.S. Government Accountability Office report shows that a third of all college students are “struggling to afford basic food and basic nutrition.” The press release also states that the bill could help thousands of students to enroll in CalFresh.

“County eligibility workers report that students often bring the wrong materials to county workers who must instruct them to return (to) their financial aid office to secure the correct form or letter …  and then the worker has more (difficulty) conclusively determining if what the student brought meets the requirements to verify their eligibility exemption,” Payne said in an email.

According to Payne, the bill would help remedy the bureaucratic hurdles by creating a streamlined process for applicants.

The bill has the support of the County Welfare Directors Association of California, the county of Yolo, and student groups, according to the press release.

“We expect the bill to have no problems passing the legislature and we are optimistic the governor will also sign it given that the colleges support it,” Payne said in the email.

Contact Lev Gordon-Feierabend at [email protected].