Despite Midterm Outcome, Biden Administration Can Help Students Meet their Basic Needs

Even if Democrats lose control of Congress, the Biden Administration can reduce student basic needs insecurity.
Blog Post
Nov. 4, 2022

On Tuesday, the conclusion of the midterm elections could usher in a very different federal policy landscape. The Biden Administration needs to prepare for the possibility that Democrats lose one, or both, chambers of Congress. The outcome of this midterm election will therefore have significant consequences for Biden’s agenda broadly, and for higher education policy in particular.

Over the past several months, the Biden Administration has made substantial progress helping students afford their most fundamental needs. The administration passed the American Rescue Plan that provided around $20 billion in emergency funding to students and launched a National Strategy on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health, which could significantly reduce food insecurity across college campuses. These actions, combined with recent state policies that have made community college tuition-free for millions of Americans, have real potential to help a huge portion of the country afford college.

But the promise of the Biden Administration's efforts could be wiped away by a new Congress that is less sympathetic towards helping Americans access and afford pathways to and through higher education. To prevent that from happening, the Biden Administration needs to prepare a set of regulatory actions that can make college more affordable by helping students afford their basic needs.

Students who cannot afford their basic needs like housing, food, transportation, and healthcare often struggle to complete college. These basic needs are so substantial that they are often larger than the cost of tuition itself. By helping students afford their basic needs, the Biden Administration can ensure that people with low incomes can realize the benefits of higher education. If the administration advances a regulatory agenda that reduces basic needs insecurity, they can advance educational and economic equity without having to rely on Congressional support of their broader legislative agenda.

To develop a regulatory agenda that can help students afford their basic needs, the Biden Administration should focus on the most critical things students struggle to afford: housing, food, transportation, and healthcare. Even though legislative action is necessary to solve the affordability crisis in these areas, the Biden Administration can utilize the power of the executive branch to provide students with needed relief, without having to rely on congress. To do this effectively, the Biden Administration should:

Review HUD Affordable Housing Programs to Ensure they Help Students

The Biden Administration should facilitate a partnership between the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the Department of Education (ED) to review and reform HUD’s affordable housing programs to ensure they meet students' needs. This could involve simplifying the application process for these programs, releasing guidance to colleges and universities to ensure institutions are equipped to help students navigate affordable housing options, incentivizing local housing authorities to work with colleges, and launching a public awareness campaign to help college students learn about their potential housing options. Given the acute housing crisis for community college students, in particular, the Biden Administration should release specific guidance and regulatory changes that help community college students access housing.

Ensure College Students with Low Incomes are Eligible for SNAP

In September, the Biden Administration made significant strides toward reducing food insecurity by launching a new National Strategy on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health. The administration should build on this success by fleshing out details of the strategy that relate to college students. Specifically, the administration should ensure ED and USDA can share data to help enroll all Pell-eligible students in SNAP. Doing so could go a long way towards ensuring college students from low-income backgrounds can afford food.

The Biden Administration should also reform SNAP to reduce the burdensome eligibility requirements and administrative processes that significantly reduce the program’s reach and impact. As one step in this process, the Biden Administration should continue the temporary modifications to SNAP eligibility and benefits that allowed a substantial number of college students to enroll in SNAP during the COVID-19 pandemic. If the Administration cannot make these changes permanent without passing legislation, they should at least ensure current college students can continue to access SNAP for the foreseeable future.

Review how DOT and Medicaid Regulations Contribute to Student Basic Needs Insecurity

Given how important transportation and healthcare are to college students, the Biden Administration should also review how federal Department of Transportation (DOT) and Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Medicaid regulations contribute to student basic needs insecurity. Research suggests that only 57 percent of community colleges have transit stops within walking distance of campus, but another 25 percent could have accessible public transit by extending existing bus lines. The administration should review how DOT regulations could help address this shortcoming in particular.

Many college students, particularly adult learners, struggle to afford and access healthcare. While 13 percent of all college students are enrolled in Medicaid, many college health clinics do not accept Medicaid. This creates additional burdens for students from low-income backgrounds to access healthcare. The Biden Administration should review Medicaid regulations to assess how the program could better serve college students.

If the Biden Administration enacts these changes, they will position themselves to help college students afford food, housing, transportation, and healthcare. Doing so will advance educational opportunity and economic mobility for people from low-income backgrounds, and will allow the administration to make significant progress towards addressing basic needs insecurity. Regardless of the outcome of the midterm election, enacting these changes will help students afford their basic needs, and as a result, is the right course of action for the administration.

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