February 16, 2021

COVID-19 and the unexpected switch to remote learning have negatively impacted college students’ academic performance, mental health, and food security. Even before the pandemic, food insecurity was widespread across the most well-resourced campuses.

Food insecurity has historically and disproportionately affected students of color, older students, former foster youth, parenting students, students who experienced childhood food insecurity, and first-generation college students.

A Hope Center study found that among 167,000 students who were surveyed from 171 two-year and 56 four-year institutions, 39 percent were food-insecure over the previous 30 days. The Food Research & Action Center (FRAC) has found that most studies on college hunger reveal food insecurity rates among U.S. college students to be higher than the national average for adults not attending a two- or four-year institution.

When students are food-insecure, they are more likely to drop out of school. No one should be forced to face additional barriers to food security because they are pursuing higher education. As we continue to deal with the learning loss from COVID-19, now is an opportune time to make important investments in the workforce as we emerge from the pandemic recession.

Sending a clear signal that ending hunger in Maryland should be a top priority during Maryland’s 2021 Legislative Session shows that these lawmakers are on the right side of this important issue. Delegate Debra Davis (District 28) and Senator Mary Washington (District 43) have teamed up to reintroduce the Hunger-Free Campus Grant Program (HB 851), which aims to create a state-funded matching-grant program to provide campuses with the resources to become a “Hunger-Free Campus.” This would entail the following actions:

  • establish a Hunger-Free Task Force;
  • designate staff to connect eligible students with the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) application assistance and to local SNAP retailers;
  • provide on-campus food resources, such as pantries, or establishing a system for stigma-free access to existing local community food resources;
  • raise awareness for food insecurity through campus events to reduce stigma; and
  • create a meal plan swipe-sharing program that allows students to donate unused swipes to other students in need.

Maryland will join a growing list of states that have made a similar investment in its next generation of leaders if this bill is passed.

Hungry students can’t learn if they are distracted by hunger in the classroom, nor can they thrive if they are distracted by the stress and anxieties of living with food insecurity. It’s time for Maryland to take this critical step to ensure that college students receive the nutrition support they need to achieve their educational goals and more.