Governor signs College Hunger Bill, assuring low-income community college students can access food security via SNAP

An estimated 40,000 low-income community college students in Illinois are now assured access to food security through SNAP, thanks to Senate Bill 351, which was signed into law July 20 by Gov. Bruce Rauner.

Chicago Coalition for the Homeless (CCH) advocated for this eligibility for more than five years, through its statewide No Youth Alone campaign. We worked with Heartland Alliance and the Sargent Shriver National Poverty Law Center over two legislative sessions to enact the College Hunger Bill.

Eligible are low-income vocational-track students attending community colleges across Illinois, whether they go to school full-time or part-time.

Students who want to apply for SNAP should complete a verification form and have it signed by an administrator in their school’s financial aid or bursar’s office. The student should bring the completed and signed verification form with them to their appointment with the Illinois Department of Human Services. Download a verification form here.

“This is an exciting victory for students,” said State Legislative Director Niya Kelly. “CCH has been in talks with the IDHS for years, working to change this antiquated policy. Homeless students consistently listed this as one of their top barriers in finishing up their education.”

CCH had advocated with IDHS to implement a rule change to allow SNAP access to low-income community college students who attend school full-time. When that proved unsuccessful, CCH worked with Heartland and the Shriver Center to propose 2017 legislation later called the “College Hunger Bill.” This bill became part of CCH’s successful legislative package, “Three Steps Home.”

As House Bill 3211, the 2017 SNAP bill enjoyed strong, bi-partisan support, passing the Illinois House, 85-25, in March 2017 and the Senate, 50-1, in May 2017. But Gov. Rauner issued an amendatory veto last August, saying the Illinois Student Assistance Commission should not be required to assist with implementation.

So advocates worked with the legislative sponsors to introduce a new bill – Senate Bill 351 – in the fall 2017 veto session that omitted ISAC assistance. The College Hunger Bill passed the Illinois Senate by a 54-1 vote last Oct. 25. But the measure failed to reach a third vote in the House before the veto session ended.

Later in November, IDHS announced it was adopting a rule change to allow these students to apply for SNAP. It became available to students this spring.

To ensure that students could retain SNAP even if IDHS were to later rescind its rule change, CCH, Heartland, and Shriver resumed advocating for SB315 in 2018. Again receiving strong, bi-partisan support, the College Hunger bill passed the House unanimously on April 27, with a unanimous concurrence vote in the Senate on May 9.

From left, State Rep. Litesa Wallace and CCH State Legislative Director Niya Kelly

For their strong leadership, CCH offers thanks to the bills’ legislative sponsors, Rep. Litesa Wallace (D-Rockford) and Sen. Julie Morrison (D-Deerfield), and to IDHS Secretary James Dimas.

Key staff advocating on this issue were Policy’s Niya Kelly, who led recent efforts for CCH, and earlier advocacy by Policy Director Julie Dworkin and Associate Law Project Director Beth Malik.

Students with questions may contact their local IDHS office or the CCH legal aid office, (1) 800-940-1119.

Forty-eight percent of college students report experiencing food insecurity and 22% report having to skip meals, per a recent national survey. Increased hunger on college campuses is blamed on the rising cost of higher education, scarce financial aid, and the rapidly changing face of the traditional college student. Hunger is a pressing issue in Illinois, especially among students at community colleges.

Students in vocational-track community college courses include: Agriculture; Business and office; Marketing and distribution (information management and product/service management); Health (CNA, LPN and RN programs); Home economic sciences (food preparation and culinary studies); Technical education (computers and data processing, engineering and science technologies, and communication technologies); and Trade (automotive or HVAC courses)

Download an outreach brochure here.

– Anne Bowhay, Media