First Lady Frances Wolf Visits the Lion’s Pantry, Discusses Need to Increase Pennsylvania’s Outdated Minimum Wage to Help College Students Meet Basic Needs
November 14, 2019
State College – First Lady Frances Wolf today toured the Lion’s Pantry – Penn State’s student-run food pantry – and met with students and administrators to discuss financial struggles many higher education students in Pennsylvania – and across the country – are facing. The First Lady discussed possible solutions to help these students succeed – including an immediate increase to the commonwealth’s minimum wage.
“We know that over 30 percent of college students go hungry because they can’t afford proper nutrition,” First Lady Wolf said. “We also know that many of these students carry jobs in addition to their studies. Raising the commonwealth’s minimum wage would help these struggling students meet their basic needs so they can succeed in school and get the skills they need to attain jobs after graduation.”
A Government Accountability Office report released in December 2018 found that at least one in three college students do not always have enough to eat. Additionally, 71 percent of college students today do not fit the model of a “typical” college student and may be financially independent, work at least part time, enroll in and stay in college at a later age, or have dependent children. These factors, when paired with other challenges students face like cost of tuition, lodging and/or transportation, books, and supplies, can create significant barriers to making ends meet.
Governor Tom Wolf established Pennsylvania’s Food Security Partnership in September 2015. The Partnership includes the departments of Aging, Agriculture, Community and Economic Development, Education, Health, and Human Services. The partnership was established to address hunger in Pennsylvania across numerous fronts and coordinate food and nutrition programs and centralize coordination with federal, state, and local partners. As part of this effort, the Food Security Partnership leads the commonwealth’s efforts to better respond to issues that exacerbate food insecurity around Pennsylvania. The issue of hunger among college students has been identified as an opportunity for greater coordination and support.
In January 2018, the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services took another step toward addressing this problem by changing Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) eligibility requirements for community college students. Under the new policy, community college students enrolled at least part-time and in a qualifying career or technical education program under the Carl D. Perkins Vocation and Technical Education Act or a program preparing students for a high-priority occupation may receive SNAP benefits if they otherwise qualify for the program. Examples of high-priority occupations set by the Department of Labor & Industry include jobs in technology, education, health care, human services, law enforcement, and skilled trades. Before the policy change, individuals who were attending school had to meet exemptions such as working more than 20 hours a week, caring for a child under the age of 6, or having a medical barrier to employment in order to qualify for SNAP while attending school.
During the roundtable discussion, the first lady and students identified additional steps that can be taken to further support hard-working students – including an increase to the commonwealth’s outdated minimum wage. Lion’s Pantry President and Penn State student, Sayre Bradley commented: “We’re incredibly excited to meet with the First Lady today and discuss basic need insecurity amongst college students. This is a great opportunity for students to share their experiences and involvement while discussing what can be done at an institutional, state, and federal level to support college students facing food insecurity. Addressing the minimum wage is a great step towards making sure that no student is hungry.”
The commonwealth’s current minimum wage of $7.25 per hour is the lowest allowed by federal law and trails most other states in the nation, including all of our surrounding states. That means Pennsylvanians doing the same job – especially in rural communities – earn less than someone in Ohio, Maryland, and West Virginia.