Congressman Panetta Co-Introduces Legislation to Fight Hunger on College Campuses During the COVID-19 Pandemic

April 23, 2020
Press Release

WASHINGTON, DC – Today, Congressman Jimmy Panetta (D-Carmel Valley), Congressman Jimmy Gomez (CA-34), and Congressman Josh Harder (CA-10) introduced the Emergency Ensuring Access to SNAP (EATS) Act to ensure college students would not be rendered ineligible for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) on the basis of their student status during this national emergency.

Research shows that hunger is a significant issue facing college students, especially among low-income and first-generation students. However, under SNAP’s rules, the majority of college students are ineligible for this essential assistance. The Emergency EATS Act would ensure that students otherwise eligible for the program could access SNAP for the duration of the public health emergency.

“As community members on the Central Coast work to prevent the spread of COVID-19, including complying with life-saving social distancing and stay-at-home orders, many are struggling to afford food.  Although we increased funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), known as CalFresh in California, in the CARES Act, certain college students are still not allowed to participate in the program due to limitations in existing law,” said Congressman Panetta. “The Emergency Ensuring Access to SNAP (EATS) Act would ensure that, during this unprecedent national pandemic, college students can utilize CalFresh and put food on the table.”

“Enrollment in college should never be a barrier to accessing basic necessities like healthy meals, particularly in the midst of an unprecedented national health crisis,” said Congressman Gomez. “Our country’s students need all the help they can right now, and those who otherwise qualify for SNAP benefits shouldn’t have to make the impossible decision between prioritizing their education and their health. Through the Emergency EATS Act, we can clear the way for college students to access SNAP and help them forge a future worthy of their highest aspirations.”

“People pursuing their college degrees are in an untenable situation during the Coronavirus crisis – they can’t work or physically go to school and yet they were completely left out of the stimulus program. We have to make sure our neighbors who are in school but now struggling to get by can put food on the table,” said Congressman Harder. “This bill will make sure college students qualify for CalFresh even while enrolled in school – which should have been done a long time ago.”  

“During times of national health crises, student nutrition is essential to maintaining the best defense against disease. The Emergency Ensuring Access to SNAP (EATS) Act legislation being introduced by Congressmen Panetta, Gomez and Harder recognizes the critical nature of student nutrition and seeks to broaden access to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) during the current pandemic,” California State University, Monterey Bay (CSUMB) President Eduardo Ochoa states. “CSUMB appreciates the timeliness of the EATS Act legislation. While student nutrition is an important issue at all times, during national health crises student access to proper nutrition becomes critical. The EATS Act legislation seeks to correct a flaw in SNAP and seeks to expand coverage during the COVID-19 pandemic. We appreciate the work of Congressman Panetta and urge swift passage of this legislation.”

“Food insecurity is a major problem for college students in California and across the United States. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, a survey by the Hope Center (2020) found that 39% of college students nationally had experienced food insecurity in the past 30 days. High rates of food insecurity are also found across California’s universities and community colleges (UC Global Food Initiative, 2017). As we confront this unprecedented public health and economic crisis, we must ensure the accessibility of nutrition assistance programs. By reducing barriers to accessing SNAP benefits, The EATS Act will help put healthy meals on college students’ tables,” said Heather Bullock, Professor of Psychology and Director of the UC Santa Cruz Blum Center on Poverty, Social Enterprise, and Participatory Governance.

"With the onset of the COVID-19 shelter in place orders, more college students are unable to access nutritious food," said Karen Reyes, Director of the Student Resource and Support Network at Cabrillo College. "Either they can no longer work, or are now unable to access our College food pantry and other campus-based food programs due to the transition of all College services to online. Students need this critical support to stay in school and retain the focus necessary to be academically successful. We have already had over 900 students reach out to us for food assistance, this is an emergency! It is imperative that all students be waived from the 'student rule' during the COVID crisis."

"Providing food assistance to our needy students has become a high priority for Hartnell College under the best of times. Now that students and their families are losing work income because of the COVID-19 shutdown, their needs are intensifying. Eligibility for SNAP nutrition assistance would be tremendously beneficial at this time," said Dr. Patricia Hsieh, superintendent/president of the Hartnell Community College District.

"We strongly support approval of the EATS Act as proposed by Representatives Panetta and Harder. Broadening nutrition assistance eligibility for college students would make an enormous difference for Hartnell students and their families at this difficult time," said Aurelio Salazar, Governing Board President, Hartnell Community College District.

“Few people have been more impacted economically by the COVID-19 public health crisis than low-income, first generation college students,” said Jessica Bartholow of the Western Center on Law and Poverty. “For these students, SNAP is an essential support that will not only help them prevent hunger, but also help them to achieve their goals of graduating college and exiting poverty for good. The SNAP Student Rule undermines the program’s ability to achieve these goals under normal conditions, but especially during periods of high unemployment. We are grateful for the introduction of H.R. 6565 and hopeful that Congress will include provisions to suspend the SNAP student rule in the next COVID bill.”

The Emergency EATS Act is co-sponsored by Representatives Jesus “Chuy” Garcia (Il-04), Darren Soto (FL-09), Nanette Diaz Barragan (CA-44), Tony Cardenas (CA-29), Linda Sanchez (CA-38), James McGovern (MA-02), Frederica Wilson (FL-24), Derek Kilmer (WA-06), Joseph Kennedy, III (MA-04), Raul Grijalva (AZ-03), Eric Swalwell (CA-15), TJ Cox (CA-21), Steven Cohen (TN-09), Jahana Hayes (CT-05), Adam Schiff (CA-28), Ted Lieu (CA-33), Sheila Jackson Lee (TX-18), Pramila Jayapal (WA-07), Salud Carbajal (CA-24), Adam Smith (WA-09), Gwen Moore (WI-04), and Alan Lowenthal (CA-47).