Going Hungry, Addressing Student Food Insecurity on Campus

By Carmen Avalos
President of the Cerritos College Board of Trustees
Cerritos College is a co-sponsor of AB 612

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

We don’t have to look far to see the impact of food insecurity on college campuses. Recent reports show that 48 percent of community college students are food insecure. At Cerritos College, 25 percent of students qualify for the state’s EBT/CalFresh program. The CalFresh Program, federally known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), issues monthly electronic benefits that can be used to purchase most foods at many markets and restaurants. As such, students are facing an unspeakable dilemma – having to choose between paying for living expenses or purchasing a meal. To address this issue, the College established a Food and Housing Insecurity Taskforce to help meet the needs of hungry students. The Taskforce’s mission is to improve access to food and housing resources and foster a safe and supportive campus for students to be successful. The Taskforce also works with local partners such as the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank to distribute free food items to students and the community twice a month. Our Student Health Center sponsors a food pantry that is available to students daily. However, despite our best efforts to curb food insecurity, the number of students who need help obtaining a reliable source of food and nutrition continues to grow. 

Campus food pantries only address a small piece of the bigger picture. One strategy to address food insecurity is to reduce ongoing systemic barriers that students face accessing healthy food on campus. AB 612 is a good start in the right direction. 

AB 612 helps to address bureaucratic issues that limit low-income students who rely on CalFresh from eating on campus. To put this in perspective, there are eight food vendors across our campus. In order for all eight of our food vendors to become certified CalFresh/EBT vendors each individual owner of the restaurant, or applicant, must submit three applications and complete a number of steps. These steps involve clearance from a regional county public health department, approval to become a certified vendor through the California Department of Social Services, and final approval via the U.S. Department of Agriculture to fulfill federal qualifications. As one can imagine, the process is very extensive and can take an estimate of 18 to 24 months in order to become approved. Many small businesses lack the capacity to go through such an extensive process.

We need a more efficient route that gives students easy access to meals using their CalFresh benefits through our campus food vendors.

AB 612 supports the needs of low-income students. The bill would increase accessibility to the CalFresh and the Restaurant Meals Program. It would also authorize the Department of Social Services to enter into a statewide Memorandum of Understanding with the Chancellor’s Office to permit all 115 colleges with eligible facilities to accept EBT cards at their campus cafeterias and restaurants. Passing AB 612 would help California community colleges provide students with healthy and affordable food options by breaking these systemic barriers.

If we are ever going to help solve food insecurity, we need to take more steps to tackle the underlying issue – poverty. At its core, poverty’s impact on education attainment for low-income students is crippling. More legislation and policies toward increasing student access to more affordable, quality education is needed to prevail. 

Carmen Avalos is President of the Cerritos College Board of Trustees. Cerritos College is a co-sponsor for AB 612. The College serves as a comprehensive community college for southeastern Los Angeles County. Communities within the college’s district include Artesia, Bellflower, Cerritos, Downey, Hawaiian Gardens, La Mirada, Norwalk, and portions of Bell Gardens, Lakewood, Long Beach, Santa Fe Springs and South Gate. Cerritos College offers degrees and certificates in more than 180 areas of study in nine divisions. Annually, more than 1,200 students successfully complete their course of studies, and enrollment currently averages 23,000 students. Visit Cerritos College online at http://www.cerritos.edu/.

PHOTO CREDIT: Cerritos College