Gov. Gavin Newsom on Oct. 4 signed Assembly Bill 396, which will help feed thousands of California students currently struggling with hunger and food insecurity. Authored by Assemblyman Jesse Gabriel (D-Woodland Hills), the measure will require public colleges and universities to obtain certification allowing students in employment and training programs to access federally-funded CalFresh food benefits.
“It’s shameful that so many young people in California go to bed hungry at night,” Gabriel said. “Particularly with the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbating our student hunger crisis, it’s imperative that we leverage all available resources. AB 396 will allow us to take advantage of already existing federal dollars to help feed our most vulnerable students and make sure they get the nutrition assistance they so desperately need.”
AB 396 will expand access to CalFresh food benefits provided through the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. Currently, college students are ineligible for the benefits unless they are working at least 20 hours a week or meet exemptions. AB 396 focuses on an exemption for employment and training services, which allows students who participate in internships, apprenticeships and on-the-job training to obtain CalFresh benefits.
According to data from the California Department of Social Services, approximately 250 employment and training programs are currently approved for the exemption. U.S. Department of Education data show there are more than 9,000 potentially-qualifying programs in the California Community College system, Gabriel said.
Research has shown there is a high prevalence of hunger and food insecurity on the state’s college campuses. Nearly one in three California college students face food and housing insecurity, according to a survey by the California Student Aid Commission. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the problem, authorities said.
“Assembly Bill 396 will streamline the process by which the California State University certifies its academic programs to participate in the employment and training student eligibility pathway for CalFresh benefits,” CSU Chancellor Joseph I. Castro said. “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.”
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