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Swipe Out Hunger Testifies Before Joint Committee on Higher Education

Swipe Out Hunger was recently invited to testify before the Joint Committee on Higher Education in Albany, NY. Our newest hire, Advocacy and Organizing Manager Robb Friedlander (pictured left) represented the Swipe Movement at the February 4, 2020 hearing with the following testimony:

Dear Members of the Joint Legislative Budget Hearing on Higher Education,

Thank you for allowing me to testify in front of your committee today on the issue of student hunger in New York and how you can join our movement to end it once and for all. My name is Robb Friedlander and I serve as the Advocacy and Organizing Manager at Swipe Out Hunger.

Swipe Out Hunger is a national nonprofit whose mission it is to partner with colleges to end student hunger. Since 2010, our organization has served nearly two million warm, nourishing dining hall meals to college students facing food insecurity. In New York we are partnering with the CUNY Urban Food Policy Institute andthe, the UJA Federation and SUNY to tackle student hunger head on and eradicate it on every campus within the state. You can learn more about our work at SwipeHunger.org.

Before this position, I served as Advocacy Manager at Feeding America, the nation’s largest anti-hunger organization. While there I trained and grew the advocacy capacity and policy power of our nations more than 200 food banks.

But I am not here today just representing myself and the organization I work for. Rather I am here representing and being a voice for the more than 45% of SUNY students and 51% of CUNY students who struggle with food insecurity and hunger.

Students like Vanson Lee, who while attending the CUNY School of Public Health for his masters in public health fought hunger and food insecurity. Vanson, said “that as a CUNY student, he knew what it’s like to be both pressed for time and to feel the social and economic stigma of looking to food pantries,” This is why Vanson created Plentiful, a tool to help students connect to food pantries and services on campus. “Plentiful on CUNY campuses will provide a dignified experience in utilizing pantries and be more efficient for the student population who is hungry to learn and shouldn’t be worried about meeting their basic food needs” he said.

I am here representing the thousands of students across the empire state, who have the potential to give back so much to their community, as Vanson has done, but are met with the largest roadblock of all, the lack of food they need to thrive. For all of these students, I have two hopes today. The first is that I’m able to elevate the issue of student hunger here in New York and speak to your committee about the need to address this crisis. Secondly, we want to encourage this committee to consider Governor Cuomo’s proposal to expand SNAP access to more college students in New York.

We already know that SUNY and CUNY are leading the way towards ending student hunger on campus. As of this year, every SUNY has either a food pantry on site or one directly close to campus. Tasks forces have sprung up on dozens of campuses which are introducing new programs. And at the CUNYs, the Healthy CUNY initiative has hired student advocates to raise awareness, introduce new programs and galvanize more support for students’ basic needs.

Both systems have sparked central partnerships to support them in this work. We want to highlight the work of the Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance (OTDA) who has been dispatching social services staff to SUNY campuses to share information about resources like SNAP to students. And of course, we would like to remind the committee of the important role Single Stop plays at numerous campuses, connecting students to public assistance.

Yet, rates of student hunger persist. Action is needed at the state level and we believe it can start with your committee.

While resources like food pantries and SNAP exist to help students, many roadblocks stand in their way. From draconian work requirements, lack of knowledge about resources or the powerful stigma of hunger, hungry students who should qualify for SNAP assistance often are left skipping meals or relying on cheap and/or processed foods with low nutritional value.

A student’s ability to focus in class, stay in school, and feel part of the campus community are threatened by food insecurity.

So, what can we do to address student hunger in New York?

First, we can follow the call of Governor Cuomo in his State of the State, when he put out a call to expand access to SNAP for eligible community college students. We know that SNAP is vital to addressing hunger on college campuses. Our nation’s largest anti-hunger nonprofit Feeding America only serves one meal for every 12 meals provided by SNAP.

We encourage this committee to support the proposed work of OTDA to establish state policy that community college students who are engaged at least half-time in career and technical education courses of study are exempt from the requirement to work 20 hours weekly to qualify for SNAP. This policy change will increase the participation of low-income college students in SNAP, providing them with essential nutritional benefits so they are more likely to obtain their college certification or degree.

The SNAP program continues to face threats of cuts at the federal level. This proposal would not require any change at the federal level, but would simply help alleviate the burden of excessive work requirements and document gathering. We recommend this proposal be adopted by OTDA and applied to not just community college students but to students at four year institutions as well.

Second, we urge New York to consider introducing its own Hunger Free Campus Bill.

Originally introduced in 2017 in California, the Hunger Free Campus legislation which was drafted by Swipe Out Hunger, encourages campuses to adopt known best practices. These best practices include:

– Establishing a pantry on campus or host pop-up pantries on campus
– Have staff or OTDA professionals on campus who can enroll students in SNAP
– If the campus has a meal plan, allowing students to donate their excess meal swipes to peers
– Increase the number of retailers who accept SNAP on campus

Through Hunger Free Campus, colleges and universities that meet the specified requirements are eligible to receive funding from the state to bolster their anti-hunger efforts.

Other states are considering hunger free campus as well. New Jersey successfully introduced and passed their own Hunger Free Campus act alongside $1 million for campuses. And if there is one thing I know about New Yorkers, it’s that we don’t like to be shown up by New Jersey.

Funding for basic needs on campuses has an outsized impact. Supporting students basic needs safe guards our countries multi-billion dollar investment into financial aid.

A student cannot thrive without access to regular healthy meals. The importance of meals goes beyond calories and plays a significant role in the students social, emotions and mental health.

We appreciate the committee’s interest and investment in the success of our states college and university students. If there are any questions on our recommendations or if your office opportunities to work alongside your offices to advance this cause, please contact me at robb@swipehunger.org.

Thank you for your continued commitment to our students and a higher education system that supports all students.

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