A little over two months ago, Angel Huerta was working two jobs, attending UC Riverside full time, and didn’t know where he would find his next meal.

“Often, I went two days without eating anything,” the 21-year-old senior said Wednesday, Nov. 6. “On most days, I’d only have one meal.”

The stress associated with food and housing insecurities, Huerta said, caused his grades to drop. He was placed on academic probation. That’s when he sought the help of the on-campus food pantry, and it made a huge difference. He is no longer on probation and is on track to graduate in June 2020, he said.

“I wish I’d gotten help earlier,” he added. “It made a big difference in my life.”

Huerta spoke Wednesday at Mt. San Antonio College in Walnut in support of legislation proposed by Rep. Norma Torres, D-Pomona, to help students like himself – those who are in college, working two or more jobs, and struggling to make ends meet.

The legislation, “Basic Assistance for Students in College Act,” proposes allocating $500 million to help colleges and universities identify and meet the basic needs of students, such as food, housing, transportation, childcare, health care and access to technology.

If approved, the legislation would establish a competitive grant process that colleges could tap into to support programs for free or subsidized food, secure sleeping arrangements, temporary housing, and priority access to campus childcare. The legislation would require the Department of Education to work with other departments to enroll students in applicable programs such as Medicaid and food assistance.

Torres said 25% of the $500 million would be dedicated to community colleges, and institutions with a higher number of low-income students would receive priority. It’s unclear how many students would get help; Torres said that number would depend on the level of participation by colleges.

“These are students who are left out because they are viewed as part-time students,” Torres said, adding that poorer students need all the help they can get as they try to lift themselves out of poverty.

About 35% of California college students have “low or very low” food security and 33% are housing insecure, according to the California Student Aid Commission’s 2018-19 Student Expense and Resources Survey. Another recent study conducted by the Hope Center for College, Community and Justice at Temple University found that 19% of students attending California’s community college system have experienced homelessness in the past year, 60% have experienced recent housing insecurity and 50% have struggled with food insecurity.

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