Massachusetts lawmakers proposed two bills last week that would help the state’s colleges address student food insecurity, according to the bills, which are published on the state Legislature’s website.
The identical bills, proposed in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts House of Representatives and Senate, would create an agency within the state’s Department of Higher Education and a $1 million program to assist 29 public colleges and universities in combating hunger among students, the Senate bill said. Thirty-seven percent of the state’s public university students were recently food insecure, according to a June 2020 report by the Hope Center for College, Community and Justice and the state higher education department.
“The pandemic has further exacerbated hunger, especially for college students already struggling to get by,” said Andy Vargas, a state representative who co-sponsored the House legislation. “In a state where our cost of living is so high and navigating support can be complicated, solving food insecurity will require a systems approach that builds capacity, efficiency and meets people where they’re at.”
Private nonprofit institutions that serve a significant number of low-income students will also be able to participate in the program if they meet certain requirements and are designated a “Hunger-Free Campus,” according to a press release from Quinsigamond Community College, a college in central Massachusetts and member of the state’s Hunger-Free Campus Coalition. The program would provide participating institutions with resources and materials to distribute to students struggling with food insecurity, training for staff members and access to a grant program to support students’ basic nutrition needs, the bill said.
In order to participate in the program, colleges must create a staff position and task force for addressing food insecurity, notify low-income students of their eligibility for federal nutrition programs, provide access to on- or off-campus food distribution, and engage in “hunger awareness” activities, according to the Senate bill. There are additional requirements for colleges that request grant funding, such as creating a campus food pantry or a student meal-sharing program, the bill said.