Rep. Norma Torres announces legislation protecting students’ access to basic needs

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Courtesy photo: Congresswoman Torres announces the BASIC Act with students, advocates and policy experts.
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Congresswoman Norma J. Torres (D-CA) was joined Wednesday by local students, as well as advocates and experts focused on combatting student hunger and homelessness, to announce new legislation to ensure college students – particularly Pell Grant recipients and attendees of community colleges and minority-serving institutions – are able to meet their basic needs while pursuing their education.

The Basic Assistance for Students in College (BASIC) Act provides $500 million for grants to ensure institutions of higher learning have the resources they need to support their students’ day-to-day needs, and directs the federal government to streamline data sharing across agencies to help students who qualify for aid access it.

Courtesy photo: Mt. San Antonio College student, Merlin Diaz, fights back tears as she speaks at the podium with her son, Matthew.

“Higher education is an invaluable asset in the 21st century workforce, but students can’t go broke trying to pay for it,” Rep. Torres said. “The legislation I announced today will ensure the federal government is coordinating assistance efforts across agency lines, empower colleges and universities to identify students in need of support, and provide resources so every student’s basic needs are met.”

Almost half of all college students experience hunger, and more than one-in-ten experience homelessness. According to a HOPE Center for College, Community and Justice study, nearly half of our nation’s community college students experienced food insecurity in the past thirty days. Almost 60% of students who were potentially eligible for SNAP in 2016 did not receive their benefits.

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“A student worried about keeping a roof over their head or affording a meal on their table is a student distracted from learning,” Rep. Torres continued. “As higher education costs continue to climb, the BASIC Act will ensure that a college degree is accessible to all.”

The BASIC Act provides for a dual approach to ensure students’ basic needs are met:

$500 Million for Basic Needs Grants Program

The BASIC act provides for 1-year Planning Grants (up to $50,000 per institution and $40 million in total) for basic needs research and plan development to meet unmet needs. The legislation also provides for Implementation Grants (up to $500,000 per institution and $460 million in total) to execute on the plans they develop over five years.

Data Sharing

The BASIC Act directs the Department of Education to coordinate with the Departments of Agriculture, Housing and Urban Development, and Health and Human Services to share data identifying students who may be eligible for federal aid programs, and to assist institutions of higher learning in enrolling students in these programs.

“College affordability and accessibility are not just about helping students cover tuition and book costs, but also providing critical support for their overall wellbeing, including access to nutritious food, affordable housing and reliable healthcare,” University of California System President Janet Napolitano said. “I applaud this tremendous, bold effort to combat the challenges our students face by equipping colleges and universities across the country with the funding and resources to help meet students’ basic needs. Such innovative proposals bring practical solutions to real problems and bring to the forefront important issues such as housing and food insecurity that require collective approaches and solutions.”

“On college campuses around the country, students struggle with high costs of tuition and student housing, mounting student loan debt, and perhaps the greatest threat to their well-being and academic success: hunger,” said Abby J. Leibman, President & CEO of MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger. “In our years of advocacy on this issue, MAZON has pressed for more comprehensive data on the scope of food insecurity on campuses so that Congress can establish meaningful solutions to ensure that students receive the help they need. We are grateful to Congresswoman Torres for her leadership in introducing the BASIC Act. This bill makes significant advancements in addressing campus hunger by requiring data sharing between federal agencies and establishing a basic needs grant program for students who struggle with hunger and other challenges.” 

“The evidence is quite clear:  every day hard-working #RealCollege students leave students because they don’t have their basic needs met,” Sara Goldrick-Rab, Founding Director, Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice said. “We’re grateful to Congresswoman Torres for introducing the BASIC Act, joining Senator Harris to stop this talent loss and investing in our collective future.”

“The Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP) is proud to support the Basic Assistance for Students in College (BASIC) Act,” said Olivia Golden, executive director, CLASP. “Skyrocketing tuition and the rising cost of education-related expenses have led to more students being unable to meet their basic needs. And traditional financial aid packages often don’t account for necessary expenses such as health care, transportation, and food. The BASIC Act establishes a $500 million grant program to encourage institutions of higher education to identify and address the basic needs of students while also encouraging federal agencies to coordinate in helping eligible students enroll in important public benefits programs such as SNAP, Medicaid, and federal housing assistance. We applaud Representative Torres for introducing this bold legislation that would promote economic mobility and improve access to education.”

“Every day, our students face hunger and homelessness because of decades of divestment from higher education,” Max Lubin, CEO of Rise, Inc. said. “That’s why we’re grateful for Congresswoman Torres joining leaders in Congress who are working to make sure no student has to choose between affording college and a healthy meal or safe shelter.” 

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