Massachusetts Daily Collegian

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A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Students testify at statehouse in support of food security bill

Hunger Free Campus Bill allocates funding for campus resources
Students Cristian Orellana (left) and Sean Simonini (right) testify in front of legislators in Boston on Monday, Sept. 18, 2023. (Olivia Capriotti/Daily Collegian).

MASSPIRG students from the University of Massachusetts testified at the Massachusetts State House in support of the Hunger Free Campus (HFC) bill on Monday, Sept. 18.

From 10 to 11 a.m., students sat in front of the Joint Committee on Higher Education, co-chaired by state Sen. Jo Comerford.

“Hunger in and of itself is debilitating,” Sean Simonini, political science student at UMass Lowell and vice chair for MASSPIRG’s statewide board, said. “If you’re worried about whether or not you’re going to be able to put food on the table, you’re not worried about your studies.”

In 2019, the Massachusetts Hunger-Free Campus Coalition (HFCC) formed to address food insecurity among students enrolled in public colleges and universities. This coalition includes groups such as MASSPIRG, the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts, the Greater Boston Food Bank and several public universities.

Over the summer Gov. Maura Healey passed a $56 billion FY24 budget, including $1 million for the HFC bill as a new line item. The bill would permanently establish a grant program to support food security resources at public universities in Massachusetts, and is currently pending a report from the committee.

MASSPIRG students are asking for $4 million in funding for the bill. While no MASSPIRG students from UMass testified, according to MASSPIRG Organizing Director Leigh-Anne Cole, members attended a lobby day this past March.

Simonini cited in their testimony that 37 percent of public university students in the state are food insecure, 20 percent of food-insecure students utilize Supplemental Nutrition Action Plan (SNAP) benefits and only four public institutions have a meal swipe donation program.

Alongside Simonini, sophomore economics major Cristian Orellana testified. Orellana works as a social service assistant at UMass Boston, providing homelessness and food insecurity resources for students.

“Currently some students who face food insecurity must choose between buying lunch, or having to save what they have for other costs that they face and starve,” Orellana said.

Mikael Killian, a senior political science and philosophy student at UMass Boston, recalled his mother’s struggles on her daily commute when he was growing up.

“I remember being a kid and her telling me stories about drinking a cup of tea with seven teaspoons of sugar, just to get through the day,” Killian said. “Hearing that from your mother is quite depressing to say the least.”

In high school, Killian recognized students experiencing food insecurity. “I would be going to rugby practice and some of my teammates wouldn’t have eaten, and it would be 3 p.m.,” he said.

Known as “An Act establishing the Hunger Free Campus Initiative,” (H.1293/S.835) the bill would secure funding for campus resources such as food pantries, meal swipe donation programs or on-campus SNAP vendors.

Students led lobby meetings in the afternoon to thank legislators sponsoring the bill. For legislators not sponsoring the bill, students asked them to sign on so that when the FY25 budget starts, $4 million can be included to support the bill.

“If we can secure funding, it’s only onward from here,” Simonini said. “While it’s not going to fix everything on a college campus, the bill is a step in the right direction.”

Olivia Capriotti can be reached at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @CapriottiOlivia.

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