In 2017, the state of California passed AB 453, the hunger free campus bill. This bill gave each of the higher education systems in the state, $2.5 million in one-time funding to develop student meal credit sharing programs, create campus food pantries, and assign staff to assist students enrolling in CalFresh. This tremendous win brought respite to thousands of students facing basic needs insecurity and allowed schools across California to start addressing the issue. Even with this budgetary allocation, however, not all campuses had the same bandwidth to help students meet their basic needs. Subsequent years brought renewal of one-time funds for this work, but hunger free campus dollars are set to expire on June 30, 2021
While CARES funding helped schools respond to an increased demand for basic needs support during the COVID-19 pandemic, many students are still struggling to provide for themselves and their families in addition to funding their education. A survey from the California Student Aid Commission found that since the beginning of the pandemic seven in ten students (71%) lost some or all of their income due to COVID-19. Nearly half (46%) had their living arrangements change, and almost a quarter of student (24%) dropped courses during the spring term. These challenges are even more pronounced among students of color, making access to basic needs support fundamental to issues of equity and equal opportunity.
At campuses across California, student basic needs centers emerged as safe havens and beacons of hope for students. Basic needs centers enable students with the most pressing needs to obtain food and other life necessities, access housing programs, develop financial literacy skills, ensure that financial aid is maximized, and leverage other resources including CalFresh. Many centers have pivoted during the pandemic to offer drive-thru food pantries and counseling services via phone or Zoom. Staffing has been increased to meet student demand, dollars are stretched, and public-private partnerships have allowed these centers to courageously remain open amid a global pandemic.
To uplift the importance of these centers the Michelson 20MM Foundation has awarded a Spark Grant to John Burton Advocates for Youth (JBAY). JBAY will conduct an awareness campaign intended to educate policymakers in California about student basic needs. This campaign will be coordinated based on input provided by basic needs representatives from campuses across the state and other stakeholders. JBAY will also develop informational campaign materials and will educate and inform stakeholders regarding the importance of basic needs centers in partnership with a statewide coalition of supporters, including students, student associations, and other allies. At its core, this campaign will uplift and be driven by students’ voices, perspectives, and experiences.
Michelson 20MM was founded thanks to the generous support of renowned spinal surgeon and inventor Dr. Gary K. Michelson and his wife, Alya Michelson. The Michelson 20MM Foundation is dedicated to supporting and investing in leading organizations, technologies, and initiatives that seek to transform learning and improve access to educational opportunities that lead to a meaningful career. Learn more at www.20mm.org.