USC must seek ways to make eateries CalFresh-eligible

Undergraduate and Graduate Student Governments recently announced a joint proposal to make on-campus eateries CalFresh-eligible. With this proposal, students who qualify for the CalFresh program will have access to purchase food at these locations. This proposal was issued as a response to the GSG survey results that revealed half of the 466 respondents don’t purchase from on-campus eateries because they are overpriced. 

This new proposal not only highlights the need for more accessible food on campus but also provides an optimistic future for bringing more options to students experiencing food insecurity. While the current proposal first starts with Seeds Marketplace on the University Park Campus and Soto Cart on the Health Sciences Campus, the proposal should be expanded to all vendors, especially those in Ronald Tutor Campus Center. 

CalFresh is a federally mandated program that provides low-income students with monthly grocery money of up to $200 per month in Electronic Benefit Transfer cards. Student eligibility for this program is contingent on whether they are approved for work-study or are Cal Grant recipients or members of the Educational Opportunity Program. According to USG, CalFresh-enrolled students will be able to use their EBT card benefits in on-campus eateries. 

Currently, USC provides similar beneficiary programs for food-insecure Trojans. The USC Student Equity and Inclusion Program operates the Trojan Food Pantry, which is located behind Parkside Apartments and open four days a week. The Pantry is open to all students and provides free groceries from Trader Joe’s, Costco, Target and Numero Uno Market to all enrolled USC students. 

The Trojan Food Pantry is the only on-campus resource that provides temporary relief to food-insecure students. However, the location of the pantry is tucked away at the edge of campus, invisible to visitors and residents. 

This poses as an inconvenience that contributes to why resources like these may see low participation. Since its creation in spring 2018, the Trojan Food Pantry has seen 6,111 total visits from 908 total visitors. Additionally, one in three California college students experiences food and housing insecurity, according to California Student-Aid Commission.  

The new USG and GSG resolutions address this very problem, allowing more options, access and convenience for food-insecure Trojans to obtain quality food on campus. This initiative will also instigate awareness and visibility to the low-income student community and provide them with extra support. 

Through its support of this program, USC will not only recognize the ongoing food-insecurity issue but also help those qualified for CalFresh get access to the state benefit program. Therefore, this program should also be extended to more locations on campus. 

For now, it is important to be realistic, but the potential of this proposal does open more opportunities for future development in food accessibility on campus. The resolution is the first step toward something that will ultimately become much bigger.