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As many students nationwide grapple with hunger, California offers food assistance

Marketplace Contributor Sep 29, 2017
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Emaline Friedman, a Ph.D. student and CalFresh recipient, unpacks groceries in her Los Angeles apartment.
Emaline Friedman/ for Marketplace

Students all over the country are back on campus, which means anxiety about new roommates and classes. But new research tells us that a lot of those students also worry about getting enough to eat. 

Emaline Friedman is one such student. She shops at the Pavilions grocery store at Melrose and Vine in Los Angeles, because it’s located close to where she lives, and offers a lot of fresh produce and organic food. She’s in Los Angeles taking care of an elderly relative while she writes her psychology dissertation at the University of West Georgia. She relies on California’s food assistance program, called CalFresh.

She’s vegetarian, and when she shops she scans the store for meat-free options like hummus and crackers, which CalFresh helps her afford. But Friedman isn’t the only higher education student who needs help getting enough to eat.

“I do think it is a growing problem,” said Clare Cady, founder of the College and University Food Bank Alliance. She coauthored “Hunger on Campus,” a 2016 survey of 34 universities and community colleges on student food insecurity. About 48 percent of students reported food insecurity in the previous 30 days, 22 percent with such low levels of food security that they qualified as hungry. “The cost of college has gone up significantly over time and the types of funding that are available to students have not kept pace with the cost,” Cady explained.

Even so, her study shows that very few students use food stamps to improve their diets, “so, they are applying for food stamps but they’re not eligible because of work requirements.”

In July, the California legislature passed a new law that will require campus eateries to register to accept purchases under CalFresh. It also requires colleges to inform students about their eligibility for food assistance. Friedman is already eligible for CalFresh because she works part-time, meeting a requirement that students work at least 20 hours a week to qualify for the program. She knows what would happen if she wasn’t working in addition to her PhD program.

“That would mean that I would not be able to take care of my my elderly grandma who’s in a wheelchair right now,” Friedman said, “I help out and take care of her two days a week.”

Friedman was ashamed to accept food assistance at first. But, she said, she got over her pride.

“I saw how that pride sort of morphed into a refusal to accept help.” The food assistance program is helping Friedman to finish her Ph.D., advance her career, and, she hopes, eventually stop using it.

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