The Chronicle of Higher Education
by Kate Hidalgo Bellows
June 24, 2021
The Oregon Senate on Monday passed a bill that would require the state’s public colleges to hire “benefits navigators” — a measure that advocates said would be key in fighting food and housing insecurity on campus.
According to the legislation, House Bill 2835, which passed the Oregon House last week, the benefits navigators would help students at the state’s 26 public colleges and universities determine their eligibility for and apply for assistance from programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP. The measure would allocate nearly $5 million for the new positions. The bill does not specify when the navigators would be hired, but the funding is intended to last the next two years.
The bill now goes to Gov. Kate Brown, a Democrat, who has not yet taken a position on it.
In a 2019 survey of Oregon community-college students, 41 percent of respondents said they had been food insecure in the previous 30 days, 52 percent said they had been housing insecure in the previous year, and 20 percent said they had been homeless in the previous year. The survey, conducted by the Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice, which researches college students’ basic needs and advocates for better access to them, found that most Oregon community-college students who experienced basic-needs insecurity did not get access to assistance — for example, less than a third of food-insecure students received SNAP benefits. Use of on-campus resources was similarly low, with less than quarter of food-insecure students getting help from a food pantry.
Several community and student organizations united to push for the bill after it was introduced, in January. Among them were Partners for a Hunger-Free Oregon, the Oregon Community College Association, and the Oregon Students Association.