Bills Include Measure to Create NJ Office of Food Insecurity Advocate, Provide Supplemental Funding for School Breakfast Program and Summer Meals
(TRENTON) – Amid historically high unemployment levels last year, it was projected 1.2 million New Jerseyans, or 13.5 percent, would be experiencing food insecurity in 2021. Up from 11.3 percent in 2018, one third of those now estimated to be food insecure are children.
To tackle this recent reversal of pre-pandemic trends that showed year-on-year food insecurity in decline, a bill package championed by Assembly Speaker Craig J. Coughlin (D-Middlesex) was advanced by the Assembly and Senate on Thursday. Three of the four bills (A-5880, A-5882, A-5884) are sponsored by the Speaker.
“The pandemic had a devastating effect on food security,” said Speaker Coughlin. “While communities truly showed up for one another, volunteering time, donating, and forming new partnerships, we have to keep up the fight. Only by expanding our commitments, aided by best practices, do we ensure all of us can live in the comfort of knowing from where our next meal will come.”
Among the measures are initiatives to create a new Office of Food Insecurity Advocate to consolidate the responsibility of food aid oversight, increase Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) accessibility through creation of a mobile app, and supplemental meal program funding of 10-cent per meal for children at school. Together they appropriate $10 million.
Language within in the state budget also appropriates $600,000 for the creation of a SNAP and School Meals Dual Enrollment Pilot Program to combat under enrollment in food assistance programs. The pilot would specifically support school districts in identifying and enrolling students, who receive federal free or reduced-price meals, in SNAP.
“Waivers implemented during the pandemic showed us how effective food aid programs can be when certain barriers to access are lowered,” said Adele LaTourette, Director of Hunger Free New Jersey. “Boosting access to SNAP and boosting the mandates on summer and breakfast meal programs altogether enables us to strengthen critical programs so we gain ground in the fight against hunger.”
The bills follow hunger relief efforts advanced in the Legislature in recent years to tackle food insecurity on college campuses, food deserts, accessibility to state and federal programs, and nutrition.
“The COVID-19 public health and economic crisis has only magnified systemic injustices in our nation’s food system,” said Senator Cory Booker, a member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry. “With a focus on addressing childhood hunger and boosting SNAP benefits, this bold relief package will bring forth critical changes to support New Jersey’s anti-hunger programs during this pandemic and beyond.
“I applaud Speaker Coughlin and his partners in the Legislature for prioritizing hunger and nutrition issues in our state, and I remain committed to continuing my work in the Senate to ensure all Americans have equitable access to nutritious, healthy food.”
The bill package now heads to the Governor’s desk.