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New Government Report Shows Many College Students Are Unable to Afford Food, Recommends Federal Action to Address Food Insecurity in Higher Education

Report requested by Murray, Warren, Stabenow, and Markey shows that food insecurity is a widespread issue on college campuses


Report is the first of its kind and makes recommendations for federal action to address hunger issues for students in higher education


President Trump’s shutdown is further jeopardizing students’ food security; if shutdown continues, students will lose SNAP benefits after February


Washington, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senators Patty Murray (D-WA), ranking member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), ranking member of the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee, and Ed Markey (D-MA), released a new report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) showing that college students around the country are struggling to afford food and basic nutrition. The report is the first time a federal government agency confirms that food insecurity is a widespread issue and recommends the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) take steps to help enroll potentially eligible students in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits. GAO also found that almost 2 million at-risk students who were potentially eligible for SNAP were not currently receiving benefits. However, because many students are ineligible for assistance under SNAP, GAO also recommends further action is taken to address food insecurity on college campuses.


However, President Trump’s government shutdown is further exasperating the issue of food insecurity on college campuses. If the government shutdown continues, students and millions more who rely on federal assistance to afford food will no longer receive benefits after February.


“As the costs of college continue to climb, it’s clear that students are struggling to afford more than just tuition—many are unable to afford textbooks, housing, transportation, child care, and even food,” said Senator Murray. “This report confirms that food insecurity is a widespread issue on our nation’s campuses and that there’s a lot of work to do to ensure students are getting enough to eat. As we work to reauthorize the Higher Education Act, I look forward to building on the recommendations of this report to make college truly affordable by addressing the total costs of college.”


“No student should have to decide whether or not they will eat that day or go hungry while they work hard towards a better future,” Senator Warren said. “This GAO report is not only the first ever federal report on hunger at American colleges and universities, but is also an important step towards ensuring students have what they need to succeed.”


The report confirms that low-income students around the country are struggling to afford food while in college, and the majority of studies analyzed found that roughly one-third of students are struggling. GAO noted that first-generation college students or students who are raising children as a single parent are especially at risk of food insecurity. GAO also determined that students aren’t getting the information they need about SNAP benefits from the federal government and that the majority of potentially eligible students are not receiving benefits, totaling more than 1.8 million students nationwide. However, many students aren’t able to receive SNAP benefits because of state or federal eligibility requirements. To fill those gaps, GAO finds that states and colleges are working to coordinate benefits access, research student needs, and expand eligibility rules where possible.


“College students of all ages, some supporting families, not only deal with the high cost of tuition and books, but must juggle the costs of housing, food and other living expenses,” said Senator Stabenow. “This report helps identify some of the obstacles these students face and ways that our colleges, universities and government can address campus hunger to help our students succeed.”


“Students don’t go to college to learn how to go hungry,” said Senator Markey. “In Massachusetts and across the country, food insecurity on college campuses is a serious problem. This report highlights solutions that will help eligible students with clear explanations of and instructions for receiving SNAP benefits. I am hopeful about the progress we can make by implementing these recommendations, and look forward to working with my colleagues in the Senate to further support our students.”


GAO conducted this report after a request from Senators Murray, Warren, Stabenow, and Markey in February 2017. It reviewed 31 local studies from around the country.  


Read the full GAO report HERE.