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Legislation to Connect Students with Nutritious Meals Clears General Assembly

Coughlin, Quijano, Reynolds-Jackson and McKnight-Sponsored Bill Requires Schools to Notify Parents of Free & Reduced Price Meals

(TRENTON) – Legislation designed to increase enrollment in free or reduced-price meal programs in New Jersey public schools cleared the General Assembly today. Bill A-5164 would require school districts to provide information to parents and guardians regarding the National School Lunch Program and the federal School Breakfast Program. Assembly Speaker Craig J. Coughlin and Assemblywomen Annette Quijano, Angela McKnight and Verlina Reynolds-Jackson sponsored the legislation.

The information provided would include details about the availability of free or reduced priced meals for eligible students, instructions on completing the application, and notification that the application may be submitted at any time during the year.

“Through this bill, we are aiming to increase participation in these meal programs so that no child goes hungry during the school day,” said Speaker Coughlin (D-Middlesex). “This legislation will help us ensure that every student who is eligible for free or reduced-priced meals knows exactly how to access them.”

Under the bill, parents and guardians would be required to either submit an application for the National School Lunch Program and the federal School Breakfast Program or submit a signed card indicating that they have received the application and are uninterested in participating in the program.

“It’s well documented that students without consistent and nutritious meals are unable to achieve academically, emotionally, or socially,” said Assemblywoman Quijano (D-Union). “Seeking parental sign-off or waiver is an important way to ensure that the greatest number of people possible are being notified of these critical programs.”

While the information can be provided electrically, the bill mandates that paper copies be given to students at the beginning of the year.

“We know that even in 2023, not everyone has access to the Internet, making it hard for some people to learn about life-enhancing programs such as the National School Lunch Program or the federal School Breakfast Program,” said Assemblywoman Reynolds-Jackson (D-Mercer, Hunterdon). “By requiring everyone to receive physical copies of this information, we are seeking to level the playing field and make sure no child goes without food due to their socioeconomic status.”

“Our students are our most precious commodities and fueling their bodies so they can concentrate and fuel their brains is paramount to them receiving a top-notch education,” said Assemblywoman McKnight (D-Hudson). “Parental involvement is important to their children’s success and the legislation advanced today is an important step in that process.”