UC regents committee discusses basic needs across CA, mental health, funding

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In the first of several UC Board of Regents meetings at UCSF, the regents Special Committee on Basic Needs met Tuesday to discuss students’ basic needs across California and within the UC system.

The regents first discussed the California Higher Education Basic Needs Alliance, or CHEBNA, which includes the UC, California State University, or CSU, and California Community College, or CCC, systems. The alliance serves to share approaches for addressing students’ basic needs. CHEBNA priorities include increasing food pantry access and CalFresh enrollment, according to the agenda discussion item.

“Something to highlight on the CSU side is they have very impressive communications, marketing and web design strategy that the UC does not have,” said Ruben Canedo, chair of the UC Berkeley Basic Needs Committee. “If you google ‘CSU basic needs,’ it’s a gorgeous website.”

According to CCC Chancellor’s Office specialist Colleen Ammerman, framing CalFresh in a “nonstigmatizing way” in marketing materials and encouraging peers to reach out to one another are effective ways to increase CalFresh enrollment and food pantry usage.

“Folks are afraid that if we message and put this out there, there’s going to be some kind of shame, but actually students are saying that these services increase their sense of belonging,” Canedo said.

The committee also discussed the correlation between students’ basic needs and mental health, and the funding resources for mental health services. UC Regent Richard Leib said he particularly wants to hire mental health counselors on UC campuses.

According to the meeting agenda, the Budget Act of 2019 provided the UC system with $15 million in ongoing funding for food and housing insecurity and $3.5 million for rapid rehousing efforts. These funds are allocated to each UC campus based on the proportion of students who are food and housing-insecure, according to Yvette Gullatt, UC vice provost for diversity and engagement and interim vice president for student affairs.

Gullatt added that a successful use of the funding would result in an increase in graduation and completion rates, especially among Pell Grant recipients and underrepresented students.

Gullatt said Tuesday’s meeting reinforced the importance of partnership between California university systems and state and county legislatures in the basic needs effort.

“It just reinforces that this is not a problem that UC solves on its own,” Gullatt said.

According to Canedo, the centralized effort for basic needs began at UC Berkeley in 2013. In 2014, it was implemented across the UC system. Canedo said the committee’s efforts show that basic needs are a priority for the regents.

“I’m mindful of how many previous generations of students struggled and felt like nobody was prioritizing this, and at some point that was true and now it’s not,” Canedo said. “Once you bring this type of energy and attention to something like this, it can only get better.”

Maya Akkaraju is a higher education reporter. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @maya_akkaraju.