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Congressman Panetta Cosponsors the BASIC Act to Help College Students Afford Basic Needs

November 4, 2019
Press Release

SALINAS, CA – Today, Congressman Jimmy Panetta (CA-20) announced that he cosponsored the Basic Assistance for Students In College (BASIC) Act, legislation to ensure that college students—particularly those receiving Pell Grants or attending a community college or minority-serving institution—are able to afford basic, day-to-day necessities. U.S. Senators Kamala D. Harris (D-CA), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) introduced companion legislation in the Senate.

According to a recent Government Accountability Office report, more than 30% of college students may face food insecurity. This issue is particularly pronounced among community college students. A recent survey by the HOPE Center found that two-thirds of community college students are food insecure and half are housing insecure, including 14 percent who have experienced homelessness. Almost 60% of students who were potentially eligible for SNAP in 2016 were not receiving benefits. Students and institutions alike have been grappling with how the cost of basic necessities presents significant barriers to student welfare and academic success.

"Vulnerable students should be focused on their education, not worrying where their next meal will come from or where they will be sleeping at night," said Congressman Panetta. "The BASIC Act will equip colleges and universities across the central coast of California and the country with the funding and resources to help meet students meet their basic needs."

"The financial and other basic assistance that the BASIC Act seeks to provide would be of enormous benefit to many of our students. Fundamental demands such as food and housing too often interfere with their ability to achieve long-term security for themselves and their families," said Dr. Patricia Hsieh, Superintendent/President of the Hartnell Community College District.

"Many college students today, especially in community colleges, face significant economic challenges that can impede their ability to attain their educational goals. We support any bill that reduces the barriers our students face by addressing their basic food, housing, transportation, childcare, healthcare, and technology needs, enabling them to focus on their education. In so doing, our students will be empowered to positively transform their lives and the lives of their families, while simultaneously providing our communities with an educated and skilled workforce," said David Martin, Interim Superintendent/President of the Monterey Peninsula Community College District.

"Homelessness and poverty are structural problems that confront many of our students on a daily basis,” said Dr. Matt Wetstein, Superintendent/President of Cabrillo College, a Designated Hispanic Serving Institution (DHSI) and one of 14 CEO's participating on the California statewide Affordability, Food & Housing Access Taskforce. "According to a report released by the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office and The Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice, 59% of the student respondents in Cabrillo College's Region experience housing insecurity and 20% experience homelessness, while 43% experience food insecurity. Often, attending a community college is more expensive for the student than attending a 4-year university, because financial aid and grant distributions are less. We strongly support the Basic Assistance for Students in College (BASIC) Act, which would institute a grant program for community college students and access to services that cover the true cost of attending college, which includes housing, food, childcare, books, and transportation, not just tuition dollars."

"CSUMB strongly supports the BASIC Act and other efforts to reduce food insecurity and address other basic needs of college students, particularly those students who are without sufficient safety nets in the areas of housing, health care, child care and transportation. Legislation such as the BASIC Act, which seeks to address fundamental needs that must be addressed if all of our students are to be able to fulfill their potential, is strongly supported by CSUMB. In this era where public and private safety nets are missing for many students, despite the increasing numbers of students who are experiencing deprivation of basic needs such as housing and nutrition, we believe that legislation such as the BASIC Act is critically important," said Eduardo Ochoa, President of the California State University, Monterey Bay.

"Higher education is a great equalizer, but enrolling students is not enough to ensure their future success," said U.C. Santa Cruz Chancellor Cynthia Larive. "In a state like California, where living costs are far too high, we must support students who struggle to pay for the basics like housing, food and healthcare. The BASIC Act not only highlights what has become a very real problem in higher education, it offers a practical solution."

"College affordability and accessibility are not just about helping students cover tuition and book costs, but also providing critical support for their overall wellbeing, including access to nutritious food, affordable housing and reliable healthcare. I applaud this tremendous, bold effort to combat the challenges our students face by equipping colleges and universities across the country with the funding and resources to help meet students’ basic needs. Such innovative proposals bring practical solutions to real problems and bring to the forefront important issues such as housing and food insecurity that require collective approaches and solutions," said Janet Napolitano, President of the University of California.

The Basic Assistance for Students In College (BASIC) Act would ensure that vulnerable college students are able to afford basic necessities, such as housing or food. Specifically, this legislation would:

  • Establish a $500 million competitive grant program to help institutions of higher education identify and meet the basic needs of students, including access to food, housing, transportation, childcare, health care, and technology.
  • Require at least 25% of grants to go to community colleges. Grant priority will also go to institutions with 25% or higher Pell enrollment, HBCUs, and other minority-serving institutions.
  • Require the Department of Education to coordinate with the Departments of Agriculture, Housing & Urban Development, and Health & Human Services to develop and implement an agreement to: 
    • Securely share data to identify current students who may be eligible for federal means-tested programs, including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), Medicaid, and federal housing assistance.
    • Coordinate efforts to help institutions enroll eligible students in these programs.