To aid New Jersey school districts in feeding children enrolled in free or reduced price school lunch and breakfast programs during extended school closures for COVID-19, the Assembly advanced a bipartisan measure 65-0 on Monday.
The bill (A-3840) would give direction to school districts on the provision of school meals to be distributed to students at local centers in the event the New Jersey Department of Health or health officer of the jurisdiction orders a school to close. Schools unable to provide meals would be required to establish a food voucher system to ensure that all children continue to have access to proper nutrition.
Bipartisan sponsors, Assembly members Pamela Lampitt (D-Camden, Burlington), Aura Dunn (R-Morris, Somerset) and Assemblywoman Annette Quijano (D-Union), issued the following joint statement:
“Hundreds of thousands of students across New Jersey rely on the breakfast and lunch they get at school during the week. However, with schools instituting closures and at-home instruction to mitigate the spread of coronavirus, there lies significant uncertainty on how these children will and can continue to be fed.
“While the way communities are coming together is encouraging and the steps being taken by schools is commendable, we must ensure every district has the broad-based support necessary for meals programs to go on uninterrupted. Requiring school districts to collaborate with county and municipal government, as well as local organizations, to identify school meal distribution sites that are a walkable distance and as accessible as possible is imperative.
“We have worked hard to ensure that no child is forced to go hungry during the school day, and it should be no different on the days that students are having to learn from home.
“In this time of uncertainty, we must work together to maintain a sense of normalcy. Preventing disruptions to daily nourishment is simply the beginning of what we need to do to ensure the whole child is safe, thriving and resilient throughout this public health emergency.”
The bill, part of the Assembly’s package of legislation in response to coronavirus, was approved by the Assembly Homeland Security and State Preparedness Committee on Monday morning before going to the Assembly floor vote. It now heads to the Senate for consideration.