By: Patrick Evans
Low income students at Humboldt State struggle to pay for food, rent and school, while federal regulations exclude many from California’s food stamp program, CalFresh.
Kaitlin Carney, a 23-year-old international studies major and Associated Students elections commissioner, said federal regulations disqualified her from food stamps last year.
“You know it’s pretty pathetic, but I usually shop at the Dollar Store for food … [I eat] a lot of rice and beans,” Carney said.
Students like Carney must work more than twenty hours a week or qualify for Federal Work Study to receive CalFresh. HSU, however, restricts student employees to a 20-hour work week. Carney said she cannot afford to eat a healthy diet working 20 hours a week for minimum wage.
“Its really too bad that students such as myself have to sacrifice the quality of our food to be able to eat enough during the day,” Carney said.
Carney said as an environmentalist she wants to support local business and buy fresh organic food.
“I can’t do that, so I’m going to WinCo or the Dollar Store and buying the cheapest of the cheap generic foods,” Carney said.
Carney eats a piece of toast and drinks a cup of tea in the morning before taking the bus to school from Eureka. Carney tries to bring a healthy lunch of salad or vegetables from home, but often eats fast food on campus because it is cheap.
“Its so much harder to study when you’re hungry.” Carney said. “Your belly is rumbling, or feeling kinda nasty cause you’re only eating grilled cheese sandwiches or whatever greasy food [from the Depot]. ”
Carney will apply for CalFresh again, now that she qualifies for Federal Work Study. Carney said hungry students need an organization to connect and share resources.
“Humboldt’s supposed to be such a community-based school, and yet I know people that feel food insecurity and just feel really alone in their situation,” Carney said.
HSU’s Associated Students plan to help students through local non-profits like Food for People. Food for People supplies canned foods and produce to people at 16 food pantries in Humboldt County. A.S. plans to open a pantry on campus.
Heidi McHugh, Food for People Community Educator, Outreach Coordinator and HSU alumnus, said many students are not eligible for the Food Pantry because of CalFresh requirements created in 2010.
A single person without a child only has to make under $1,396 per month for CalFresh.
Students who take more than six units, however, must also work more than 20 hours per week, qualify for Federal Work Study, have a disability or have a young child.
“Those rules are a federal guideline that all states adhere to. It clearly makes it more difficult for hungry students to access the program,” McHugh said.
McHugh said more than 10,000 people depend on Food for People for aid in Humboldt County, though she did not know how many are students.
A.S. now awaits the results of a survey from the Service Learning Center that will track how many HSU students cannot afford enough to eat. Matt Lutwen, the A.S. Legislative Vice President said A.S. will wait to start a project until the survey is done.
Lutwen said A.S. is looking at a couple of plans. HSU could introduce a new campus credit system for students who run out of J points, or involve hungry students with community gardens. Lutwen said information about CalFresh and Food for People should be part of Humboldt’s orientation program for freshmen, even if a food pantry is not started on campus.
HSU Vice President Peg Blake said starving students first contacted her last fall.
“I had begun to hear from different students who were just flat out hungry, who ran out of money, ran out of meal points, were cooking rice in a big pot with friends because they pooled their money and that’s what they could afford,” Blake said.
Blake learned of food pantry programs at Oregon State and 50 other universities last year and brought the idea to an A.S. meeting in November of 2012.
Blake said an HSU pantry will not be limited to students with CalFresh.
“You don’t have to be qualified for food stamps to be hungry,” Blake said. “Anybody that walks in the door and says they’re hungry, [is] going to have access to food.”