OSU HSRC receives state funding for basic need assistance services

Miguel Arrellano Sanchez can be seen illustrated by the Human Services Resource Center. With Bill 2835 passing, there is more availability to aid for students at Oregon State through the efforts of HSRC.

Cara Nixon, News Contributor

Oregon State University, which has had a basic needs navigator for three years, has yet to determine how it will use the new funding provided by the passage of House Bill 2835. 

HB 2835 was passed on June 23 during the Oregon Legislature’s 2021 Regular Session and will fund what is referred to as “benefits navigator” positions at public universities and community colleges across the state. 

The bill issued almost $5 million to Oregon’s Higher Education Coordinating Commission, which then distributed the funds to various institutions. The money became available to schools on July 1. 

Benefits navigators are positions built to assist college students with food and housing assistance, as well as financial aid. 

The passage of HB 2835 has been in the works for the past year or so, and finding solutions to the problems the bill addresses has been an even longer journey, according to Chloe Eberhardt, a policy advocate at Hunger Free Oregon

“We are a statewide advocacy organization that focuses on ending hunger in the state,” Eberhardt explained. “For us, it’s about addressing the root causes and really looking at systemic changes.” 

Hunger Free Oregon has been working with student advocates since 2018. After being approached by University of Oregon students and hosting multiple listening sessions, it became clear to Eberhardt that benefits navigators were desired by students to help them through basic needs and financial stress during college. 

“Students really were champions for this, [and] throughout this past session, [they] did such amazing advocacy to make this happen,” Eberhardt said. 

Eberhardt explained that college students experience hunger at considerably higher rates when compared to the general public. Funding benefits navigator positions at public universities and community colleges will help alleviate this issue. 

OSU has already seen the advantages of having a benefits navigator in action. Miguel Arellano fills the position as basic needs navigator at OSU’s Human Services Resources Center. In that role, Arellano said he helps students navigate basic needs and financial concerns, maximize resource utilization and establish a strong foundation while at college. 

During his time as basic needs navigator, Arellano has helped students get connected to close to $1.4 million in federal and state resources.

Nicole Hindes, director of the HSRC, said such positions have a great positive impact on both schools and the state. 

“I think that these positions are really great equity opportunities for the state to provide more support to students that are historically underfunded and under-resourced and historically marginalized by systems of oppression,” Hindes explained.

Having benefits navigators at public universities and community colleges provides accessibility for individuals who are traditionally kept out of higher education, according to Hindes. 

“Everything’s getting more expensive, and we know that students with marginalized identities are more likely to be priced out of higher education,” Hindes said. “So, these positions really become a way for the state to ensure access to Oregonians widely.” 

HB 2835 provides benefits for the two-year budget cycle, and though funding is intended to be ongoing, Arellano said he would like to see the funding become permanent. Over the past three years, funding for Arellano’s position has come from student fees. 

The bill, according to Arellano, has more than just an effect on public universities, community colleges and their students. 

Because benefits navigators help guide students with basic needs and financial concerns, it prevents students from leaving school before graduating. When more students graduate, more people go on to join the Oregon workforce and ultimately serve the state. 

“Ultimately I strongly believe that this is really going to help out the state of Oregon, and it’s going to be a good return of investment that’s actually going to be saving us money in the long run,” Arellano said. 

Though HB 2835 is a step in the right direction, Eberhardt said there is more work to be done. 

“We’re so excited that there will be a navigator at every public university and community college in our state to support students in an ongoing way, but absolutely we want to build from this,” Eberhardt said. “For us, we want to ensure that college is accessible to all students—in particular students that are experiencing basic need insecurities at higher rates; these are students of color, parenting students, students that are first generation [and] low-income.” 

OSU and the HSRC are unsure how the new funding will be used yet, but Arellano said he is hoping discussions about it will be occurring this summer.

“I really think that this decision really has the ability to really alleviate a lot of the financial stress that many college students are experiencing today,” Arellano said.