Student advocates and legislators call for an end to hunger on college campuses through advocacy and legislation
On the morning of March 30, 2023, over 60 students, legislators and advocates convened at the Massachusetts State House for a student-led lobby day around the often-overlooked issue of college hunger. As 37 percent of public university students in Massachusetts face food insecurity, and with the Healey Administration’s focus on keeping the Massachusetts workforce competitive and higher education affordable for all, the Massachusetts Hunger-Free Campus Coalition and MASSPIRG Students (part of the Massachusetts Public Interest Research Group) congregated around deep-rooted food insecurity among students and corresponding legislation to relieve it.
The Massachusetts Hunger-Free Campus Coalition (HFCC) assembles over 40 colleges, students advocates and anti-poverty organizations to dismantle barriers to healthy, consistent meals for students. Co-led by The Greater Boston Food Bank, the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts, and the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute, HFCC promotes food access through awareness and advocacy, and connects students facing food insecurity with federal assistance programs and other resources. MASSPIRG Students represent colleges across the state, organizing students around issues of public health, climate change and democracy.
During the program, speakers shared personal experiences and called for prioritization of the urgent issue alongside legislative action. The program called for the passing of An Act establishing the Massachusetts Hunger-Free Campus Initiative (S.835/H.1293), which would fund hunger relief solutions and resources across college campuses, including food pantries and educational resources around the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and provide a single point of contact for hunger needs on campuses. HFCC and MASSPIRG Students are seeking additional funding in the FY24 state budget – $4 million – toward the Hunger-Free Campus Initiative.
The bill’s legislative sponsors – Democrats State Representative Andy Vargas of Haverhill, State Representative Mindy Domb of Amherst and Senator Joan Lovely of Salem – as well as cosponsor Senator Sal DiDomenico of Everett, joined to share sentiments and support of the pressing issue:
“Hunger can have a profoundly negative impact on students, including loss of concentration and heightened depression and anxiety,” said Senator Lovely. “For college students who struggle to afford tuition, rent, and the high cost of living, the effects of food insecurity can be especially detrimental. That is why I am proud to partner with Representatives Vargas and Domb, MASSPIRG, and the MA Hunger Free Campus Coalition to file legislation to establish a Hunger-Free Campus Initiative. By creating on-campus programs that improve access to food, like those found at Salem State University and North Shore Community College, we can help our students lead healthy, productive lives both inside and outside of the classroom. I will continue to champion this important work on Beacon Hill to end hunger across our colleges and universities.”
“We know that hunger exists on college campuses, but too often college students are overlooked,” said Representative Vargas. “College students manage busy schedules and often work full-time jobs on top of managing their schoolwork. No student should have to worry about where their next meal is coming from or compromise their education to eat. While many campuses have created incredible programs to support their students, we need a systems-wide approach to maximize federal funding and scale best practices. The passage of our bill will give colleges infrastructure to address hunger on campus in a sustainable way, and I’m grateful to the Hunger-Free Campus coalition for their advocacy.”
“Today’s students are responding to historic economic pressures whether it be escalating costs of college, the burden of student debt, the escalating costs associated with textbooks, housing and transportation, and in many cases, childcare,” said Representative Domb. “In this puzzle and trade-offs surrounding their economic insecurity, something has to give, and too often it is food. We know that food insecurity on campus exists, and it undermines students’ academic success, completion, and retention. Hungry students can’t learn and can’t succeed, and that includes students in college. The Hunger Free Campus legislation will help deliver the interventions that work to reduce college student food insecurity and support our students.”
“I am proud to cosponsor the MA Hunger-Free Campus Initiative bill and advocate for funding in the FY24 state budget to ensure no student goes hungry at any public college in our state,” said Senator DiDomenico, who is Assistant Majority Leader of the Massachusetts Senate. “We spend a lot of money to ensure our state universities have talented professors and world class resources, but this money is wasted when students are hungry, can’t concentrate in class and can’t afford to feed themselves. I look forward to working with Senator Lovely, Representative Vargas, Representative Domb, and the MA Hunger Free Campus Coalition to pass this critical piece of legislation.”
Following the speaking program, student representatives met with legislators for lobby meetings around the coalition’s priorities and advancing solutions for college hunger.
“The students who are spending their time today to improve the quality of life for all students are the very ones that will continue to be on the forefront of improving our communities through organizing, advocacy and service,” said MASSPIRG Legislative Director Dierdre Cummings.
“No student should ever have to go hungry,” said MASSPIRG’s Chapter Chair at UMass Lowell, Sean Simonini. “How can we be expected to do our best work if our biggest worry is where our next meal is going to come from? The thought that over 1-in-3 college students – including my classmates – have faced food or housing insecurity is more than enough reason for our legislature to pass the Hunger Free Campus Act now.”
Several HFCC members were also present at the State House event. This state-wide coalition was formed in 2019 and today includes over 40 schools, civic agencies and hunger-relief organizations across Massachusetts.
“In a commonwealth that prides itself on its world-class higher education, that invests millions of dollars in public education every year, we’ve fallen behind in making sure that our students don’t go hungry,” said The Greater Boston Food Bank Policy Manager Kate Adams. “We’re encouraged that Governor Healey has made significant commitments to expand access and remove barriers to higher education, but we can’t miss the essential role that food plays in the retention, achievement, and graduation of students.”
About the Massachusetts Hunger-Free Campus Coalition: HFCC was formed in the fall of 2019 to address food insecurity among high-need populations enrolled in Massachusetts colleges and universities. Comprised of over 30 colleges, students, hunger-relief advocates and anti-poverty organizations, collectively, the coalition is working to leverage and expand existing resources and services, including maximizing student enrollment in federal nutrition programs, such as SNAP, supporting meal swipe options with campus food vendors, ensuring that campuses work with food banks to expand food pantries, and other initiatives designed to address food insecurity among the student population. HFCC’s goal is to ensure equity and incorporate student voices as it works to make Massachusetts college campuses hunger free. To learn more, visit https://www.hungerfreecampusma.org/.
About MASSPIRG Students: They work with professional staff at colleges and universities to make sure their peers have the skills, opportunities and training they need to create a better, more sustainable future for all of us. Its chapters provide the training, professional support and resources students need to tackle climate change, protect public health, revitalize our democracy, feed the hungry and more. Students have been at the forefront of social change throughout history, from civil rights to voting rights to protecting the environment. For nearly 50 years, MASSPIRG has helped students to get organized, mobilized and energized so they can continue to be on the cutting edge of positive change.