VT's Government Needs to Take Action on College Food Insecurity

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Food insecurity, defined as the lack of access to culturally-appropriate and/or sustaining food sources, impacts the lives of millions of Americans every year. For years, Vermont's college population has not been recognized as being one particularly vulnerable to food insecurity. Recent data, however, has shown that many of Vermont's students are making difficult decisions on whether to purchase the textbooks they need to be academically successful or to purchase dinner for themselves. The implications of these are frightening and can include increased risk of mental/physical health issues, greater risk of academic failure, and overall poor quality of life. According to research by the Federal Government Accountability Office (GAO), reduction in state funding for education assistance coupled with changing student demographics (i.e. age when attending college has risen and more students are also caring for dependencies) has furthered stress on students' financial resources. It is estimated that nearly 30% of the U.S. undergraduate population experiences food insecurity; this number is expected to rise as tuition costs and the cost of living increases as well. 

I'm taking action and holding Vermont's legislators accountable for creating cohesive policies that would address both the importance of food security for college students and expand opportunities for students to qualify for 3 Squares (VT's version of the Supplemental Nutrition Access Program). At the federal level, several Congressional representatives have proposed the 2019 College Student Hunger Act which, if passed, would lower SNAP's twenty-hour-per-week work requirement to ten hours for college students, allow Pell-Grant eligible students to apply for SNAP benefits (and provide clear steps for accessing such programs), create a SNAP student pilot program, and audit outreach processes via the USDA. This bill has been endorsed by a variety of state and national level entities including the Vermont Food Bank, Swipe Out Hunger Program, Feeding America, American Council on Education, and the National Center on Housing and Child Welfare. 

What is already being done? 

Although many colleges are making efforts to provide for food insecure students via on-campus food pantries, emergency services, community education, and emergency aid, there is a considerable gap in state-level follow-up to address insecurity issues. Many states, including California, Rhode Island, and Missouri, have taken action at the state level to ensure students are aware of their SNAP eligibility via on-campus clinics and by altering existing programs to meet SNAP employment/training qualifications. As of 2016, twenty-four states are currently implementing third-party training partnerships to both enroll SNAP participants and increase the employability of the recipient. These programs are vital in ensuring eligible students are able to receive the support they need to be academically successful and healthy. Vermont does not currently offer such programming. 

What more needs to happen? 

The purpose of this petition is to not only gain community awareness of food insecurity among young adults, but to also encourage Vermont's legislators to promote college outreach via 3 Squares. Since SNAP eligibility is controlled at the federal level, it is not possible to alter the eligibility standards of SNAP. Rather, the state government is responsible with justifying work requirements and delivering programs to the people. 

 It is about time for the government to prioritize the safety of its student populations so they won't have to decide between their next meal and their academic future.