With more than 360,000 children among the many New Jersey residents receiving food assistance, due in part to the economic downturn in 2020, several Assembly Democrats sponsor two bills to supplement food assistance programs for children. The legislation passed the full Senate and Assembly Thursday.
Both bills would supplement food assistance programs by providing additional reimbursement to school districts participating in programs that assist children in need.
One measure (A-5882/S-3943), sponsored by Assembly Speaker Craig J. Coughlin as well as Assemblymen John Armato, Anthony Verrelli and Herb Conaway, passed by a vote of 72-3-0 in the Assembly and 40-0 in the Senate.
The bill would require the Department of Agriculture and Department of Education to establish a State supplement for the federal Summer Food Service Program and the Seamless Summer Option. The State would reimburse operators of these programs an additional 10 cents per meal.
“With hundreds of thousands of New Jersey children experiencing food insecurity, we must ensure they have regular access to the food they need year-round,” said Speaker Coughlin (D-Middlesex). “State support for important federal programs will enhance and improve New Jersey’s efforts to combat childhood hunger and provide our kids with healthy, nutritious meals.”
“Many students from low-income families rely on school programs for nutritious meals,” said Assemblyman Armato (D-Atlantic). “This federal program ensures that food assistance continues during the summer months. Additional funding will help schools achieve their goal of reaching as many hungry children as possible.”
Many students who receive free meals and snacks at school lose access to that food during the summer months. The Summer Food Service Program and Seamless Summer Option both help fill that gap by providing meals to children throughout the summer. In July 2020 alone, more than 9 million meals were provided to around 203,000 children throughout New Jersey.
“Without these federal summer programs, many children would go without regular meals during the three months they are not in school each year,” said Assemblyman Verrelli (D-Mercer, Hunterdon). “We cannot leave these children behind simply because they are no longer in the classroom each week. Supporting these federal programs will help ensure they do not go hungry during the summer.”
“Children who lack consistent access to nutritious food are more likely to experience physical, social and behavioral issues – including developmental impairments,” said Assemblyman Conaway, MD (D-Burlington). “It is our state’s responsibility to maintain the health and well-being of our children by continuing to provide them with nutritious meals throughout the year.”
The other measure (A-5883/S-3944), sponsored by Assembly Democrats Gary Schaer, Shanique Speight, Andrew Zwicker and Sterley Stanley, passed by a vote of 71-4-0 in the Assembly and 40-0 in the Senate. The bill would similarly supplement the school “breakfast after the bell” program by reimbursing operators an additional 10 cents per meal.
“Every child in our state deserves to start their day with a healthy, nutritious breakfast – regardless of their parents’ financial situation,” said Assemblyman Schaer (D-Bergen, Passaic). “Supplementing existing programs with additional 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 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.”
The “breakfast after the bell” program was established in 2018, when the Governor signed a law requiring New Jersey schools to implement this program if at least 70 percent of their students are eligible for free food through federal school meal programs. Since many children are unable to show up to school early to receive their free meal, the purpose of “breakfast after the bell” is to provide the food in the first few minutes before class instead.
“Food insecurity surged throughout our state as a result of the pandemic, with an increase of 75 percent for New Jersey children,” said Assemblyman 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 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.”
Both bills, which are part of a larger package addressing food insecurity in New Jersey, now head to the Governor’s desk.