Husky Market, an initiative that allowed food-insecure students to receive a $300 grocery store gift card, is being cut as a result of national pandemic restrictions no longer being in effect. The program, created by University of Connecticut Praxis and Undergraduate Student Government, was created in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and provided hundreds of thousands of dollars of groceries to students.
Created in 2020, financial policy established by Connecticut’s government allowed for USG to provide students with gift cards to popular grocery stores. Students could fill out a form to self-identify as food-insecure and would become eligible for the service on those grounds. In fall 2022 the initiative provided over $480,000 worth of groceries to students.
However, according to USG, as this financial policy has been rolled back this option no longer became viable.
USG Vice President Peter Spinelli, Comptroller and Chief Financial Officer Benjamin Keilty, Student Services Advocacy Director Lorien Touponse, and Communications Director Sophia Sanchez discussed the reasons behind the change, what students can do, and alternatives for Husky Market.
“It had the potential to really negatively affect students’ eligibility for financial aid, as well as open them up to tax issues… we estimated that on average for every $300 gift card, the student would end up owing an additional $250-ish dollars to the federal government,” Keilty said about keeping the initiative going.
In terms of advocating for Husky Market to come back, there isn’t much that can be done.
“We’ve had to redirect to other avenues because the fact is that Husky Market was going to negatively impact the people that it was supposed to be helping…there was conversations about [how] people wouldn’t be eligible for Pell Grants and scholarships and it was going to impact their ability to go to college,” Touponse said.
“We always knew that it was never going to be a forever solution. We always knew that we were operating in this pandemic loophole that was going to close when the pandemic ended,” Keilty said.
During the fall of 2022, USG was told that they had to come to a decision on Husky Market by Dec. 31, 2022, as tax implications would start being generated for students at the beginning of 2023.
There are other alternatives for food-insecure students who are worried about the loss of this program. Students can reach out to financial aid about cost of attendance, or the Dean of Students Office for short-term loans or grant-based aid.
Food-insecure students can also go to the Husky Harvest food pantries, one of which recently opened at the Charter Oak Apartments Community Center on the Storrs campus. There is a pantry on every campus, and any student with a UConn ID has access to the pantries and the ability to get non-perishable foods, toiletries and more. More information about hours can be found on Husky Harvest’s website.
In addition, USG’s Student Services Committee meetings are open to the public, and are held at 6 p.m. every Tuesday. Students who are passionate about food-insecurity or have ideas on how to combat it can go to these meetings in order to share ideas and to vote.
Spinelli urged students not to worry about other initiatives and programs being shut-down due to these policy changes this year, as Husky Market was unique in what it was.
“The reason why it doesn’t work is because it’s direct money, basically, that we’re giving to a student. A lot of our programming is not that, for example period products. We’re not giving money for period products, we’re giving the actual products,” Spinelli said.
However, this may change in coming years, according to Keilty.
“[USG] is facing budget pressure as a result of the last of our COVID money starting to dry up. We’re already having conversations… about whether to request more funds from students through the funds we collect on the student fee bill, or to cut programs,” Keilty said.
Students who are interested in those discussions can attend USG’s Senate meetings, which are held at 6:30 p.m. every other Wednesday. The next one will be held on Nov. 29.
With Husky Harvest opening a location on the Storrs campus, USG is switching gears in order to address food insecurity. Food insecurity covers a much wider scope than not just having access to food.
“If you don’t have access to cultural foods [and] if you don’t have access to food that meet your dietary restrictions,” these are also forms of food insecurity, Touponse explained.
UConn students also recently received an email that contained a survey about food insecurity. Filling out the survey can help show administration the level of food security amongst the student body, and is the quickest way to show the university your needs. The results of this survey will be used to improve upon what already exists at the university to combat food insecurity. The survey is open until 11:55 p.m. on Nov. 19.
USG will be taking many different avenues to address food insecurity. They will be collaborating with UConn Student Health and Wellness’s nutrition specialist in December to talk about how to properly nourish your body, due to food-insecure students often not eating enough or eating heavily processed foods. They also plan on partnering with Spring Valley Student Farm in the spring to show students how food is grown, setting up a cooking class to show students how to cook in accordance with their dietary restrictions, advocating for a second food pantry to be opened at the Storrs campus and more.
Students can email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information, or with any questions or concerns.