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Coughlin-Sponsored Bill Expanding Income Eligibility for Free School Lunches Heads for Governor’s Signature

A-5684 Helps Fight Food Insecurity in New Jersey Schools

(TRENTON) — The “Working Class Families Anti-Hunger Act,” legislation designed to provide nutritious meals for more New Jersey students, advanced to Governor Murphy’s desk after passing both the New Jersey General Assembly and the Senate. Bill A-5684, sponsored and championed by Assembly Speaker Craig J. Coughlin, authorizes the expansion of income criteria for public and nonpublic school students to gain free access to food, marking a crucial step forward in the battle against food insecurity.

Under this bill, students who do not qualify for free meals under the present eligibility standards may now receive free provisions if they meet the expanded income eligibility parameters. Going beyond the scope of current federal regulations, the legislation would provide free lunches to all public and private New Jersey students whose families have an annual household income of up to 224 percent of the federal poverty level. The legislation would also require that these students receive breakfasts free of charge.

“The children most in need of nutritious meals at school will now receive breakfast and lunch,” said Speaker Coughlin (D-Middlesex). “We’ve made incredible progress to provide healthy meals to New Jersey’s students and this is another step toward my ultimate goal of universal free school lunch. No child should feel any shame or face any stigma over receiving a decent meal. We know this improves health and learning outcomes and we are going to get it done.”

The bill would also require the Office of the Food Security Advocate to establish a Working Group on School Food Security to identify and develop best practices, policies, and plans, to promote and facilitate the effective functioning of the State’s school meals programs and the expanded provision of free school meals to students in the State.

The General Assembly passed A-5684 on June 30, 2023 and amended versions passed the Senate and Assembly yesterday.

Additional Sponsor Comments:

“This landmark legislation reinforces New Jersey’s commitment to prioritizing the welfare of its citizens, particularly its youth,” said Assemblywoman Shanique Speight (D-Essex). “We are committed to supporting the state’s most vulnerable populations and fostering educational success for our children.”

“By providing access to food, we are creating an environment where all children have the resources they need to thrive,” said Assemblywoman Carol Murphy (D-Burlington). “The temporary expansion aims to assist families even beyond the academic year, providing numerous children with access to food through the summer meals program.”

“In 2019, there were 762,530 New Jersey residents — including 192,580 children — who were ‘food insecure,’” said Assemblywoman Shama Haider (D-Bergen). “That’s hundreds of thousands of children who don’t know where their next meal is coming from or if they’ll have a next meal. By giving more students access to meals, we are providing a lifeline for them and their families.”

“Free meals in schools are more than sustenance. They’re a safety net for many students and a promise to children that hunger will not be an obstacle in their education,” said Assemblyman Wimberly (D-Bergen, Passaic). “By broadening eligibility requirements and including breakfast, we’re taking a stance against food insecurity.”

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