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Now Law: Wimberly, Jasey, Mukherji and Lopez Measure Creating Hunger-Free Campus Grant Program

Aiming to ensure no college student goes hungry in New Jersey, legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Benjie Wimberly, Mila Jasey, Raj Mukherji and Yvonne Lopez to create a program that would provide grants to institutions designated by the Secretary of Higher Education as hunger-free campuses was signed into law Thursday by Governor Phil Murphy.

The grants provided under the new law (formerly bill A-4702) aim to help colleges address hunger statewide, leverage more sustainable solutions to address basic food needs on campus, raise awareness for available food services, and continue to build strategic partnerships at the local, state and national levels to address food insecurity among students.

“Hunger does not discriminate,” said Wimberly (D-Bergen/Passaic). “It affects all types of people – from those living in small communities to those living on college campuses. College meal plans can be costly for many families and students, and this grant money will significantly help our hard-working students who are in need of food assistance while they are getting an education.”

In order to be deemed a “hunger-free campus” under the law, the institution is required to, at a minimum:

  • establish a campus hunger task force that meets a minimum of three times per academic year to set at least two goals with action plans;
  • designate a staff member responsible for assisting students with enrollment in the New Jersey Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP);
  • provide options for students to utilize SNAP benefits at campus stores, which must be authorized by a federal authority to accept SNAP dollars;
  • provide at least one physical food pantry on campus, or enable students to receive food through a separate, stigma-free arrangement; and
  • develop a “Swipe Out Hunger” student meal credit sharing program, or designate a certain amount of funds for free meal vouchers that might otherwise be raised through a “Swipe Out Hunger” program.

“College, in itself, is hard enough,” said Jasey (D-Essex/Morris). “Paying for meals at college should not be. The goal of this grant program is to ease the stress on students and families who are struggling to make ends meet as well as to ultimately end food insecurity for students on New Jersey college campuses.”

Under the law, the Secretary of Higher Education will determine the amount of each grant which will be used by colleges to further address food insecurity among students enrolled in the institution.
“The cost of college can quickly and drastically add up, whether it is paying for tuition, books, or room and board,” said Mukherji (D-Hudson).  “A college student’s main job should be to get the education they deserve, not to be overwhelmed with worry about how they will eat while at school. This grant program will help college students to prioritize school, as they should, and ultimately help put them on the path to a successful future.”

“Too many college students find themselves facing a difficult choice; pay for tuition, or pay for groceries,” said Lopez (D-Middlesex). “Some forgo meals in order to pay for housing, books and other expenses that come with college. Food is a basic necessity and should be available and accessible to every student working to further their education.”

Additionally, the Secretary will be required to submit a report to the Governor and Legislature no more than two years after the establishment of the Hunger-Free Campus Grant Program and must include information on the number and amounts of grant awards, the impact the program has had on establishing additional hunger-free campuses at public colleges and reducing the number of students experiencing food insecurity, and recommendations on the expansion of the grant program.

The new law passed the Assembly in December by a vote of 62-8-8.