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North Florida Rep. Al Lawson Introduces Bill To Tackle College Food Insecurity

FSCJ / Florida State College at Jacksonville
FSCJ's new H.O.P.E. food pantry provides 5 pounds of food for free to students who might otherwise go hungry. It's located on the school's south campus but serves all of FSCJ's students.

A North Florida Congressman is pushing legislation to tackle the food insecurity he says more than 30% of U.S. college students face.  

Democratic Representative Al Lawson introduced the College Student Hunger Act, which allows more low income college students to access the Supplemental Food Assistance Program, or SNAP benefits. 

U.S. Representative Al Lawson.

He said students are overwhelmed by the rising cost of tuition and books.       

“So therefore, you know, they have a problem struggling just to get a meal,” he said. “And I think it causes problems not only in their test scores, but also in their graduation rates, having to work extra jobs, you know, to try to feed themselves.” 

Lawson said he introduced it because thousands of the students in his own district — which stretches from Gadsden County, just west of Tallahassee, to Jacksonville — are facing food insecurity. 

“If you look at Florida State University, there’s about 8 or 9,000 students out of the 40,000 that need assistance,” he said. “And the same thing is true as you look across the district.” 

But, he added, he applauds the protective steps colleges in the state’s 7th District like Florida State College at Jacksonville (FSCJ) are taking to address the problem. Like several other colleges, FSCJ runs a food pantry called Helping Out People Every Day, or H.O.P.E. for short. The pantry, which is located in the college's South and Downtown campuses, allows students to take up to five pounds of food a day.    

“Everyone struggles at some point in time,” said Associate Director of Student Engagement Veleashia Byrd. “And from the response I hear from all the students, they just keep saying ‘wow, I didn’t know this was here, my mom is going to be so happy to know this is here.’” 

Related: Stamping Out Hunger: FSCJ Opens Student Food Pantry on South Campus

While Lawson lauded the efforts of the colleges in his district, he thinks the issue should be addressed on the federal level. In addition to expanding SNAP criteria to college students, his bill would also require the Department of Education to notify students of their eligibility and create a pilot program to offset the cost of meal plans. 

This as the Trump Administration proposes to cut the number of people on the food assistance program by an estimated three million people.

Lawson’s bill was co-introduced by Massachusetts Democratic Senator and presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren. So far, 11 other lawmakers have signed on — all of them Democrats.

Contact Abukar Adan at 904-358-6319, or on Twitter at @abukaradan17

Abukar Adan is a former WJCT reporter who left the station for other pursuits in August 2019.