The Food Insecurity Program is part of the Speaker’s plan to combat food inequity

New York, NY – New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson and City University of New York (CUNY) Chancellor Félix V. Matos Rodríguez announce a $1 million pilot to address food insecurity among CUNY students. The program, which starts at CUNY’s seven community colleges, is part of the Speaker’s multi-pronged approach to stemming food inequity in New York.

In the fall and spring semesters, 1,250 qualifying students, including CUNY Dreamers, those with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) status, will get $400 that they can spend in campus cafeterias. The students were selected from a pool of low-income students who met the basic eligibility criteria and had an average family income that was $15,605. 

“College student hunger is a serious problem in New York City. CUNY students should be focused on learning and studying, not where their next meal is coming from. We are one of the richest cities in the world but too many New Yorkers don’t have equitable access to healthy food. The Council is proud to fund this pilot so that more students have access to food instead of skipping meals to survive,” said Council Speaker Corey Johnson. 

“A student dealing with hardships outside of the classroom can be quickly overwhelmed by the demands of college. I applaud Speaker Johnson for his leadership on this critical issue and I thank the City Council for supporting this important pilot program. The initiative will be a valuable addition to CUNY’s leading-edge efforts to address food insecurity and connect students to life-changing resources that will contribute to their physical and mental well-being and academic success,” said Chancellor Félix V. Matos Rodríguez. 

Students were notified in October that they were eligible for the fall semester. Determinations are made per semester, therefore the group in the spring may be different as population and need shifts. Students are given $400 vouchers or swipe cards – equivalent to three $10 meals weekly for 13 weeks – to spend on any food items in participating cafeterias.

The basic eligibility criteria to qualify is:

  • Significant financial need
  • Resident of the five boroughs
  • Enrolled at CUNY for at least 9 credits
  • Obtaining first college degree
  • Not currently a recipient of the Supplemental
    Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)
  • Maintaining a satisfactory grade point average

Participating colleges are: Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC), Bronx Community College (BCC), Hostos Community College, Kingsborough Community College (KBCC), LaGuardia Community College, Queensborough Community College (QCC) and Guttman Community College.

Priority was given to student parents, students who completed at least 45 credits and first year students. One survey of CUNY students found that nearly half of respondents said they had been food insecure in the prior 30 days.

The Speaker’s pilot builds on CUNY’s efforts to guide more students to available resources and address food insecurity. These efforts range from opening food pantries or offering food vouchers at all 18 undergraduate colleges to growing food on three campuses, including Kingsborough’s quarter-acre Urban Farm that produces thousands of pounds of fresh organic produce each year to distribute to students in need.

Another CUNY effort to help alleviate stressors that can hinder a student’s academic career are campus-based offices that assist students in obtaining nutrition benefits, health insurance, legal and financial services and tax preparation. These offices also manage campus food pantries and operate at every CUNY community college and at John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

“We know that to be successful in college, students must have their basic needs met, including having enough food to eat. We are committed to working with our partners to prevent food insecurity among our students. In addition to the recently opened food pantry on campus, these emergency food vouchers will help give our students the support they need to complete their degrees and achieve their dreams. We thank the Speaker, the City Council, and CUNY, for their visionary leadership on this critical issue,” said Karrin E. Wilks, Interim President of BMCC.

“Worrying about whether you’ll get to eat for the day should never be a factor in one’s educational success, but this struggle is the reality for nearly half of CUNY students. This new pilot program represents a bold step towards addressing food insecurity for college students across the City, and I thank Speaker Johnson for his leadership to identify real solutions to expand food access for all,” said Council Member Margaret S. Chin.

“Almost half of college students are food insecure, and this hunger crisis perpetuates poverty in New York City. Here, and anywhere in the world, these conditions are unacceptable. Without nutrition students can’t perform. And our city’s youth not only deserve a proper education, but they deserve to eat and to eat well. In the Council, we have to step up in our role to address this crisis. I’m proud to stand for this great pilot by CUNY and our food leader in the Council, Speaker Corey Johnson,” said Council Member Rafael Espinal.

“With the rising cost of housing, food, books and other necessities of life, too many CUNY students have to choose between pursuing their degree and buying dinner. The City Council’s new cafeteria voucher program at CUNY’s community colleges is a promising addition to the university and the city’s efforts to ensure that no college students go hungry. Reducing food insecurity will also help CUNY to achieve its goal of supporting academic success for all our students,” said Nicholas Freudenberg, distinguished professor of public health at CUNY Graduate School of Public Health and Health Policy and director of the CUNY Urban Food Policy Institute. 

“No CUNY student should be hungry in class or have to worry about where their next meal is going to come from. I commend Speaker Johnson and Chancellor Rodriguez for prioritizing this issue. I am committed to working with both of them to make sure the pilot reaches the most number of students possible in ways that work with the busy lives of these students, many of whom are also in the workforce and caring for children,” said Kate Mackenzie, Director of the Mayor’s Office of Food Policy.

“Pervasive hunger on CUNY campuses is a symptom of broader economic inequities and financial distress that plague half of CUNY students.  College is the surest path to economic mobility and Speaker Johnson and CUNY’s partnership to address this issue will mean more students will thrive in college, rather than worrying about where their next meal is coming from,” said Liz Accles, Executive Director of Community Food Advocates.

“There’s a large body of evidence demonstrating the connection between hunger and poor academic outcomes for students and, in the long term, the health and wealth gap between different ethnic and socio-economic groups. This makes it clear that student hunger is a social and racial justice issue, one that requires policy solutions that address the underlying causes of food inequity. Equity Advocates applauds City Council Speaker Johnson’s leadership on improving healthy food access through the Growing Food Equity in New York City plan and this significant City investment to address often overlooked issue of food insecurity on college campuses,”said Gabrielle Blavatsky, Policy Director and Co-Founder of Equity Advocates.

“Food Bank For New York City applauds the vision and leadership of Speaker Johnson and the New York City Council for investing in much-needed food access for CUNY students. As a partner to colleges across the City providing campus-based food pantries, we know firsthand the struggle too many of our City’s students experience. At a time when 1 in 2 CUNY students report not knowing if they will have adequate food during the month, it will take continued investments like these to ensure that students of all ages and their families have access to the adequate nutrition as they pursue their education,”said Zac Hall, Food Bank For New York City’s Vice President of Programs.

“We at GrowNYC thank Speaker Corey Johnson for his meaningful efforts to address food insecurity among college students in New York City. The lack of access to healthy and affordable food in higher education is a problem that has, until now, often been overlooked.  Whether through GrowNYC’s Fresh Food Box distribution at Hunter College, our Tribeca Greenmarket which neighbors BMCC, or educational tours for students at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, we’ve seen this problem up close, and we commend Speaker Johnson for devoting much needed resources and attention to it,”said GrowNYC President and CEO Marcel Van Ooyen.

“City Harvest is dedicated to ensuring New Yorkers across the city have access to food and the knowledge and skills to cook nutritious and delicious meals. Students should not have to worry about where their next meal is coming from, and instead they should have enough food to thrive in and out of the classroom. Through on-going partnership with CUNY and Borough of Manhattan Community College students, City Harvest strives to connect students with on-campus food resources and educational opportunities, sending them on a path of enhanced food security. City Harvest testified to the City Council in September in support of the Speaker’s Growing Food Equity Report, and we applaud the City Council’s attention to the often overlooked issue of food insecurity among college students,” said Jenique Jones, Senior Director of Program Operations and Policy at City Harvest.