Let's provide help to college students struggling to meet their day-to-day needs
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A young man spends the night watching his breath fog the window of a car he now calls home. Just blocks away, a woman ignores the stares of onlookers and passersby as she digs for her next meal at the bottom of a public trash can. At face value, you may be thinking these are the familiar stories of survival for lives spent on the fringes of society.

They’re not.

These are the sacrifices made by students at one of California’s premier institutions of higher learning when the cost of a degree overwhelms their ability to meet day-to-day needs. Education may be a ladder of opportunity for a student’s future, but it can also be a barrier to ensuring their basic needs are met in the process. The result is a preventable downward spiral that can prevent students from graduating and increase their chances of defaulting on student loans.

All across the country, college students – and particularly students receiving Pell Grants, attending community colleges, or attending minority-serving institutions – are placing the promise of a brighter future over their most basic day-to-day needs. Almost half of all college students have experienced food insecurity, and more than one in 10 college students have experienced homelessness. Furthermore, over a fifth of college students are parents themselves, but campuses cannot keep up with childcare needs. And while some students are eligible for federal assistance, many don’t know what resources are available to them.

Mt. San Antonio College near my hometown of Pomona is taking a proactive approach to helping students make ends meet. They launched the Mountie Fresh Basic Needs Resources program to provide students in need with food resources, housing referrals and case-management support. The program includes a monthly food pantry, access to nutrition assistance programs, and other daily life supports ranging from transportation to wellness, and finances to hygiene.

But the weight of this problem shouldn’t fall solely on schools to solve or their students to bear. That’s why I introduced legislation last week that would create a system of support for college campuses to ensure students are receiving the programs and services they are eligible for. The Basic Assistance for Students in College (BASIC) Act changes these dynamics in two ways. First, it delivers $500 million for competitive grants to help schools support their students’ unmet needs. Second, the bill requires the federal government to streamline data sharing across relevant departments to help identify students who may be eligible for aid programs, and assist colleges and universities in connecting students in need with the resources they deserve.

At the end of the day, a student worried about keeping a roof over their head or a meal on their table is a student distracted from learning. As the cost of tuition continues to rise all across the country, we must draw the line when an education comes at the expense of a student’s wellbeing. The BASIC Act will make sure that every student has their day-to-day needs met as they do the hard work of earning their degree, and that their school has the resources it needs to support them. It will ensure that a brighter tomorrow does not come at the expense of stability today. Until we reach the day when no student makes a meal from someone else’s scraps, or falls asleep on a steering wheel, or foregoes the assistance they need because they can’t get away from their job long enough to access it, we have work to do, and passing the BASIC Act is the first step we should take.

Norma TorresNorma Judith TorresLet's provide help to college students struggling to meet their day-to-day needs Restore controls over dangerous gun exports Objections to Trump's new immigration rule wildly exaggerated MORE represents the 35th District of California and is a member of the Appropriations Committee.