With more than 1 million New Jersey residents needing food assistance in 2020 as a result of the hardships posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, several Assembly Democrats sponsor a legislative package to address the recent rise in food insecurity throughout the state. Five bills were advanced by the Assembly Women and Children Committee, with four of them later passing the Assembly Appropriations Committee on Wednesday.
“This pandemic has taken a toll on countless residents – many of whom are struggling to put food on the table for the first time in their lives,” said Assembly Speaker Craig J. Coughlin (D-Middlesex). “Food insecurity has far-reaching, long-term effects that must be addressed on behalf of New Jersey families and communities. This legislative package will enhance and improve our state’s efforts to combat hunger and provide residents with the support they need.”
Two of the measures would make changes to the New Jersey Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which provides food assistance to families with limited income so they may buy groceries with their benefits.
One bill would require the creation of a mobile-friendly software application to make it easier for SNAP recipients to access and manage relevant information/documents, while the other would limit congestion at food stores by requiring certain SNAP benefits to be issued on a staggered schedule.
“Enabling SNAP benefits to be distributed over more than the first five days of the month would help recipients avoid long lines and shortages of certain foods at the grocery store,” said Assemblywoman Eliana Pintor Marin (D-Essex). “It’s also about providing dignity to families and individuals in need through more equal access.”
“Programs such as SNAP provide invaluable assistance to families who would otherwise have to wonder where their next meal will come from,” said Assemblyman John Armato (D-Atlantic). “Modernizing access by providing mobile-friendly software would make it easier for New Jerseyans to view their SNAP case status, view their current balance and benefits, request a replacement card, submit necessary documents, and more. A system that is easier to navigate is one that can ultimately help more residents.”
Two additional measures would supplement federal food assistance programs at the state-level by providing additional reimbursement to certain school districts participating in the federal summer food service program and the federal school Breakfast After the Bell program.
“Every child in our state deserves to start their day with a healthy, nutritious breakfast – regardless of their parents’ financial situation,” said Assemblyman Gary Schaer (D-Bergen, Passaic). “Supplementing existing federal programs with additional State support will help ensure every child gets the nutrition they need.”
“Regular access to healthy meals is an important part of a child’s development,” said Assemblywoman Shanique Speight (D-Essex). “With more families facing economic hardship as we come out of this pandemic, it is essential we expand access to nutritious breakfasts for any child who needs them.”
“Food insecurity surged throughout our state as a result of the pandemic, with an increase of 75 percent for New Jersey children,” said Assemblyman Andrew Zwicker (D-Somerset, Mercer, Middlesex, Hunterdon). “Those 365,000 children are counting on our state to help make sure they do not go hungry as their parents get back on their feet and recover from this pandemic.”
“Trying to focus on school work and extracurricular activities are practically impossible for students who are doing so on an empty stomach,” said Assemblyman Sterley Stanley (D-Middlesex). “It is vital to reduce food insecurity. Helping school districts supply meals to hungry students will improve their health and academic performance, providing them with what they need to succeed.”
The final bill in the package would establish the Office of Food Insecurity Advocate to help coordinate and improve access to food relief programs, develop new policy initiatives to combat hunger, and serve as an advocate for food insecure residents.
“Now, more than ever, a Food Insecurity Advocate is needed to ensure our residents receive the relief they need as many grapple with food insecurity due to pandemic-related financial difficulties,” said Assemblyman Vincent Mazzeo (D-Atlantic). “This office will play a critical role in helping our state develop anti-hunger policy initiatives and improve existing programs and services for families in need.”
The following bills advanced on Wednesday:
- A-5880 (Coughlin, Armato): Directs the Department of Human Services (DHS) to develop mobile-friendly software for SNAP recipients;
- A-5881 (Pintor Marin): Requires DHS to stagger issuance dates of SNAP benefits to newly eligible enrollees;
- A-5882 (Coughlin, Armato): Establishes a State supplement for federal summer food service program meals;
- A-5883 (Schaer, Speight, Zwicker, Stanley): Establishes a State supplement for “breakfast after the bell” meals; and
- A-5884 (Coughlin, Mazzeo): Establishes an Office of the Food Insecurity Advocate.