The Oregon State Senate passed a bill on Monday that would require public universities in the state to hire “welfare navigators”-supporters say this measure will be the key to addressing the insecurity of food and housing on campus.
According to the legislation, House Bill 2835Passed the Oregon House of Representatives last week, the welfare navigator will help students at 26 public colleges and universities in the state determine whether they are eligible for assistance from agencies such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP. This measure will allocate nearly $5 million for new positions. The bill does not specify when to hire navigators, but the funding will last for two years.
The bill is now being submitted to Democratic Governor Kate Brown, who has not yet commented on it.
in a 2019 year Oregon Community Survey——College Students, 41% of the respondents stated that they had been food insecure in the past 30 days, 52% stated that their housing was insecure in the previous year, and 20% stated that they were homeless in the previous year. The survey conducted by the University, the Community, and the Justice Hope Center found that most Oregon community college students who have experienced basic needs insecurity are unable to receive aid—for example, less than one-third of food insecure students receive SNAP benefits. The utilization rate of campus resources is also very low, with less than a quarter of food insecure students getting help from the pantry.
After the bill was introduced in January, multiple communities and student organizations joined forces to promote the bill. These include the Oregon Free Hunger Partners, the Oregon Community College Association, and the Oregon Student Association.
“The goal of this bill is to really ensure that when we encourage students of any age to go to college, these institutions are prepared and have dedicated funds to help the whole person succeed,” said Emma DR Kallaway, director of government relations. At Portland Community College.
Chloe ER Eberhart, a policy advocate for the Oregon No Hunger Partners, said welfare navigators are important because students really need someone to “spend time with them, and others may not” the benefits they can get .
“What we hear from students is that if you know someone who knows something, you might be exposed to certain resources,” Eberhardt said. “If you don’t know that person, then you won’t be in touch.”
For many organizers, fighting for the bill is personal. Emily L. Wanous, the legislative director of the Oregon Student Association, said that she graduated from Western Oregon University in 2018 and is a low-income first-generation student. She said that she chose that university because it was the cheapest state university in Oregon.
“We have always known that there is this kind of thing on campus, this kind of coming-of-age ceremony that our parents would tell us…’Oh, you will survive on ramen, it’s okay,'” she said. “But it’s a different world now, and the cost of college is much higher, and much more than when it was affordable.”
A kind policy——Tracking tool Data from the Education Commission of each state shows that there are eight other state legislatures that have passed nutrition and education-related bills this year. In May, Maryland promulgated a law establishing the “Hunger Free Campus Program” to strengthen the state’s efforts to reduce food insecurity in colleges and universities. The law went into effect on October 1.
“I really hope that other states that recognize this is a problem-because we know it is a national problem-they really grasp this and take it as an example to make sure we can protect students ,” Vanus said. “Not only in Oregon, but across the country.”