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Lampitt, Reynolds Jackson, & Caputo Bill to End School Lunch Shaming and Address Meal Debt Practices in Schools Clears Assembly

Legislation Supports Continuing Effort to Combat Child Hunger

Following controversy surrounding unpaid breakfast and lunch meals, two measures to address practices employed by New Jersey schools concerning this debt were advanced by the full Assembly on Monday.

The bill (A-1632), approved 79-0, is also sponsored by Assembly Democrats Pamela Lampitt, Verlina Reynolds-Jackson, and Ralph Caputo, and would require district school boards to set up a fund allowing schools to accept and receive donations to pay down school meal debt.

“There has been a lot of scrutiny in past months about the handling of student meal debt and I believe we’ve lost sight of the most integral part of this issue, student well-being,” said Lampitt (D-Camden, Burlington). “Proper nutrition is essential to a child’s success in the classroom; it is also crucial to their social and emotional development. Punishing or shaming them for debt before addressing the underlying cause with families does not enhance positive learning outcomes. It only reinforces harmful stigma. A school meal fund is a good way to ensure that no child will have to endure shaming or punishment for being unable to pay a lunch debt.”

“By requiring school districts to set up a donation fund we can ensure that every child in New Jersey is continually being fed despite potential struggle to pay for school meals,” said Reynolds-Jackson (D-Mercer, Hunterdon). “Someone with both the means and the desire to contribute to a child’s school meal fees should be supported and would be with the enactment of this legislation.”

Schools across the nation are accepting donations to help eliminate school meal debt. In Washington, an eight-year-old raised $4,000 selling $5 handmade key chains to erase debt in his school and six others. A yogurt company paid off $50,000 of Rhode Island’s lunch debt and recently a 49’ers football player donated over $7,000 to schools in Santa Clara, California.

“Many of us take a healthy meal or snack for granted,” said Caputo (D-Essex). “And while hunger should not be a problem in society during this day and age, it is. With the School Meal Fund, we would increase our capacity to feed children across the State and enhance our school meal program funding efforts by allowing individuals the opportunity to give donations.”