Press Release

Senator Welch Introduces Bill to Help Higher Education Institutions Provide Free Meals to Low-Income Students

Jul 20, 2023

WASHINGTON—Senators Peter Welch (D-VT) and Ben Ray Luján (D-NM) today introduced the Food for Thought Act, legislation to create a grant program within the Department of Education to help community colleges and minority serving institutions (MSIs) provide free meals to low-income students through on-campus meal programs. The bill was introduced in the House of Representatives by Congressman Adam Schiff (CA-30) and Congresswoman Nanette Barragán (CA-44). 

“Low-income students face enough challenges in higher education without the added burden of wondering where their next meal is coming from,” said Sen. Welch. “The Food for Thought Act will give these students a helping hand by allowing some educational institutions to provide free meals on-campus. I’m proud to join Sen. Lujan and Reps. Schiff and Barragán in introducing this bill to give students peace of mind and keep folks from going hungry.” 

“With tuition costs at an all-time high, college students are oftentimes stuck picking between education and nutrition, and it’s simply unacceptable. No student should have to study or learn on an empty stomach,” said Senator Luján. “That’s why I’m proud to join my colleagues in introducing the Food for Thought Act. This legislation provides resources to campuses that will allow them to connect students with the food they need to thrive. It’s proven that learning while hungry makes it difficult to retain information, and this bill will help ensure students no longer have to choose between their next meal, or buying textbooks.” 

“Food insecurity exacerbates financial, academic, and health challenges for students – especially students of color and those from low-income families. Our legislation will make grants available for community colleges and minority serving institutions to create programs that provide free meals to students in need – so they can focus on school.” said Rep. Schiff. “No student should have to decide between getting a higher education or going hungry.” 

“Food insecurity disproportionately impacts students of color,and is only made worse by additional socioeconomic barriers that make actions like buying textbooks or staying enrolled in school extremely difficult, if not impossible,” said Rep. Barragán. “I am proud to support the Food for Thought Act and address hunger at community colleges and Minority Serving Institutions, so every student – no matter their income – can focus fully on their studies and the futures they work tirelessly to build. 

A March 2022 study from Temple University’s Hope Center found that 39% of students at two-year institutions and 29% of students at four-year institutions have experienced food insecurity. Those findings are supported by a 2017 study from the University of Vermont (UVM), which found that as many as one in five students at UVM is food insecure at any given time.  

The Food for Thought Act of 2023 would authorize the Secretary of Education to award grants to community colleges and minority-serving institutions and provide free meals to low-income students through campus meal programs. Grant funds may also be used for conducting campus outreach on eligibility for federal food assistance programs, operating on-campus food pantries and community gardens, and updating or purchasing critical food infrastructure such as refrigerators and microwaves for student use. Under the Food for Thought Act, grantees would collect and report data on the prevalence of food insecurity on their campuses to inform and expand national anti-hunger programming and end student hunger as we know it. 

This bill is endorsed by the  American Association of Community Colleges, Association of Community College Trustees, Association of Independent California Colleges and Universities, California State University, Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP), Congressional Hunger Center, Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities (HACU), The Hope Center at Temple University, Institute for Higher Education Policy (IHEP), League of California Community Colleges, Los Angeles Community College District, MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger, NAACP, National Urban League, NEA, Network for Public Education, Pasadena City College, Southern California College Attainment Network, Swipe Out Hunger, UnidosUS 

Original cosponsors include Senators John Fetterman, Cory Booker, Bernie Sanders, and Ron Wyden.  

The full bill text can be found here.