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The last thing we, as Minnesota college students, should have to worry about is where our next meal is coming from. An astonishing 37% of Minnesota college students reported experiencing food insecurity in 2020.

Thankfully, Minnesota's Hunger Free Campus Act, passed in 2019, was created to address this need. Yet, because of the way the bill is set up, many college students may still go hungry.

LeadMN, an organization composed of two-year college students in Minnesota which advocates for breaking down barriers, championed the bill which allows private, community and public colleges in the state to be designated a Hunger Free Campus. As part of the legislation, only community and public colleges are able to apply for grant money that allows them to operate an on-campus food pantry. Campuses receive $8,000 the first year they apply for the grant and $5,000 every following year.

To receive the designation, campuses must: have an established on-campus food pantry or partnership with a food bank, provide students information about Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits or other government programs that reduce food insecurity, hold or participate in one hunger awareness event a year, have an established emergency assistance grant and establish a hunger task force.

As of January 2021, 19 higher-education institutions in the state, mostly community colleges, have been designated Hunger Free Campuses. Though I'm pleased LeadMN lobbied for the Hunger Free Campus Act, and that the Minnesota Legislature and Gov. Tim Walz were able to pass the bill, an important amendment needs to be made.

You will notice that private schools, such as St. Mary's University of Minnesota, where I am a student, are excluded from receiving these benefits. This is disappointing, as the purpose of the legislation is to make sure no college student goes hungry, not only that no public-school student goes hungry.

A new push, led by students like myself, hopes to change this. The Minnesota Association of Private College Students (MAPCS), the student-run organization that helps advance the legislative priorities of the Minnesota Private College Council, which represents the state's private nonprofit colleges and universities and of which I am the chair, has made amending the language of the Hunger Free Campus Act its main focus this next year.

As an organization, we are working to craft and pass a resolution calling on the Minnesota Legislature to amend the act's wording. MAPCS is also working to identify lawmakers who might be willing to voice support for changing the language in the legislation.

We recognize that as more schools become eligible, the amount of money allocated for the grant would need to increase. With the Minnesota Legislature now having to decide how to use a $7.7 million surplus, we believe it is imperative that a portion of the surplus go to ensure that students at all colleges and universities in Minnesota have access to food.

I believe there is a common misconception that students who attend private higher education institutions come from wealth and do not run into issues like food or housing insecurity. This is simply not true. The median income of Minnesota FAFSA-filing families at the state's private colleges is lower than the state of Minnesota's median family income.

Students across the state have been forced to choose what meals they can eat because of the amount of money they have on their meal plan or in their pockets. Because of this reality, on-campus food pantries need to be an option, and all colleges and universities need to be able to access funding to operate them.

I'll say it again: No student should go hungry while they pursue an education to better themselves and their future careers. Let's make all Minnesota campuses Hunger Free Campuses.

Jonathon Krull, a student at St. Mary's University of Minnesota, is chair of the Minnesota Association of Private College Students and vice-chair of the Student Advisory Council for the Minnesota Office of Higher Education.