Letters to the Editor

Our Reader: Campus food insecurity a rising concern for universities

With rising tuition, skyrocketing student loan debt, and massive textbook bills, students often face tough financial choices. Too often, meals get sacrificed. NYPIRG’s Hunger Prevention and Homeless Outreach project helps people in need – both students and community members who may be experiencing homelessness, hunger or housing or food insecurity.

Food insecurity, where “consistent access to adequate food is limited by a lack of money and other resources at times during the year,” is a growing problem across the U.S. Statewide, over 2.5 million New Yorkers are considered food insecure. Food insecurity is also a problem that reaches our campuses. According to our “Hunger on Campus” report, 48 percent of the students we surveyed were food insecure, and that includes 22 percent who reported very low levels of food security that classify them as hungry. The issue was slightly more prevalent at 2-year schools than 4-year schools, and was more prevalent among students of color. About 43 percent of students who enrolled with at four-year universities with meal plans still experienced food insecurity. Additionally, 56 percent of all first-generation students were food insecure, compared to 45 percent of students who had at least one parent who attended college.

As many of you have heard, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has proposed a free-tuition plan for full-time students whose families make $125,000 or less. While we applaud plans for more tuition assistance for low- and middle-income students, it seems to only cover the difference between tuition and students’ current financial aid awards. It does not appear to address non-tuition costs associated with going to college, such as food, which put low-income students at risk the most. Low-income students should have access to programs that reduce the costs associated with continuing their education, including meals. No one should have to choose between textbooks and lunch.

After further research and consultation with community experts, we believe that organizing to expand SNAP (Supplemental Nutritional Access Program) benefits would be a more ideal angle to tackle hunger on campus. Many college students are unaware that they may qualify for the program. Expanding awareness is key. CUNY’s own report on campus food insecurity found that only one in three students eligible for SNAP were enrolled. Students having access to the resources needed to help them apply can and will determine the difference of them being hungry, and skipping meals, and them becoming more food secure. SNAP expansion would help so many more students be able to study while being food secure.

If you would like to get involved and do more to support your peers, struggling with food insecurity, contact us at our campus NYPIRG office (315-412-5357, or syracuse@nypirg.org)

Anisia Lewis

Intern at NYPIRG, SU/SUNY-ESF chapter

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