With surveys showing that roughly 1 in 3 college students face food insecurity, two Florida lawmakers are proposing legislation that aims to end hunger on the state’s campuses.
Sen. Annette Taddeo, D-Miami, and Rep. Susan Valdes, D-Tampa, said their “Hunger Free Campus Act” would create a grant program under the Department of Agriculture to better support campus food pantries, which some universities including the University of South Florida already have. It would also create a student task force, survey students to assess need, and help qualifying students access benefits through the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, known as SNAP.
Financial reasons are one of the biggest reasons students drop out, Taddeo said at a news conference on the Capitol steps in Tallahassee.
“This for me is very personal,” she said. “I know what it’s like.”
She said she remembered working as a restaurant server to support herself through college but having to count pennies at the end of each month and pick meals that could stretch.
Some researchers have documented the problem on a large scale. A 2018 study released by Temple University and the Wisconsin HOPE Lab research center surveyed 43,000 students at 66 U.S. institutions and found that 36 percent were food insecure in the 30 days preceding the survey. Around the same time, the California Student Aid Commission surveyed 150,000 students and found roughly the same level of hunger on campuses.
Andres Cubillos, president of the Florida Public Interest Research Group Students chapter at Florida State University, estimated that 40 percent of students at Florida Atlantic University, Miami-Dade College and the University of South Florida experienced food insecurity.
Nastasia Janvier, Florida State’s student body president and a member of the state Board of Governors, said the issue heavily impacts low-income, first-generation students and is an obstacle to social mobility.
“For me it comes down to basic necessity,” Janvier said. “No student should have to go home and be hungry. No student should have to go home and think where their next meal is going to come from.”
Jenna Woodall, who attends Eckerd College in St. Petersburg and is a coordinator with Florida PIRG Students, said in a statement that students at private schools also experience food insecurity.
“This legislation will be a critical step in helping young people meet their basic needs so they can meet their academic potential,” she said.
Valdes said no student should have to choose between food or an education.
“If we’re going to be a state where we pride ourselves on the quality of our colleges and universities, we owe it to these youngsters to make sure they’re getting their money’s worth and getting the education which they were entitled to and worked so hard to attain,” she said.