Lawmakers promote ‘hunger-free campuses’

FAMU’s campus. Photo courtesy

Florida Senate Bill 1916, also known as the “Hunger-Free Campus Act,” would be based in the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

It was introduced by Sen. Victor M. Torres, Jr., D-Kissimmee, and Sen. Tina Scott Polsky, D-Boca Raton.

The bill calls for eligible post-secondary public educational institutions to be designated hunger-free campuses, and it would provide grants to go toward fighting hunger on college campuses.

The only “downside” to the bill is that once the commissioner of Agriculture determines that the institution is no longer eligible, the designation will be revoked. According to the bill, an institution is eligible if it fulfills multiple requirements, including establishing a hunger task force on its campus.

The institution must also appoint a staff member to assist students with enrolling in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and provide students with options to utilize their SNAP benefits at campus establishments or inform them on participating establishments in the area where their SNAP electronic benefits transfer cards can be used.

The school must also promote hunger awareness on Florida campuses through activity or even during Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week, and it must either have a physical food pantry on campus or allow students to get food for free through a stigma-free process; partnering with a local food pantry or food bank is allowed.

Tiana Stinson, a pre-K education major and a transfer student at FAMU, said she’s grateful that Florida officials are working with college students, especially those who are struggling.

“We have students who can only afford the cheaper meal plan that offers less and they spend it all without realizing it,” Stinson said. “This program will help those students who have to not only worry about their studies but also when they’ll get their next meal.”

Steven Waldman, a custodian at TCC, likes the idea of the bill except for the part where the commissioner can revoke the funds.
“After they revoke it, what’s going to happen to those students that are hungry?” Waldman said. “I think they should keep those students in mind before revoking anything.”

The related bill for SB 1916 is HB 1407, which is now in the Environment, Agriculture & Flooding Subcommittee. The Agriculture Committee voted 7-0 for SB 1916. It’s now headed to the Education Committee.