California Bill Would Extend Food Benefits to More Students

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The California Legislature passed a measure Thursday that would extend federal food assistance benefits to more college students in the state.

College students don’t typically qualify for the state-administered federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which is called CalFresh in California, unless they work at least 20 hours per week or meet requirements for specific exemptions. One of the exemptions is participating in an official SNAP Employment and Training program, hosted by a state or county, or an approved equivalent program through a higher education institution, which can include internships, apprenticeships, career development seminars and certain graduate school programs. Many college and university programs could qualify but lack official approval.

The new measure, authored by California assemblymember Jesse Gabriel, would require public colleges and universities to get qualifying academic programs approved by the California Department of Social Services as employment and training programs so students in those programs would be eligible for food assistance.

California State University system chancellor Joseph I. Castro said the measure helps “streamline the process” by which universities get these programs approved.

“In doing so, it will help ensure that Cal State students are connected to much-needed CalFresh benefits — removing a barrier to success so that they can achieve their personal, academic, and career goals, as well as help California meet its future workforce needs,” Castro said in a press release.

The bill is similar to other efforts across the country to address student hunger as the pandemic heightens student food and housing insecurity.

“It’s shameful that so many students in California go to bed hungry at night,” Gabriel said in a release. “Particularly with the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbating our student hunger crisis, it’s imperative that we leverage all available resources.”

The state’s governor has until Oct. 10 to sign or veto the bill.