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Wimberly, Jasey, Mukherji & Lopez Bill Establishing Hunger-Free Campus Grant Program Gains Approval

Bill Appropriates $1 Million for Grant Program

Addressing the issue of food insecurity among students of higher education, the Assembly Human Services Committee approved legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Benjie Wimberly, Mila Jasey, Raj Mukherji and Yvonne Lopez to create a program that will provide grants to institutions that are designated by the Secretary of Higher Education as hunger-free campuses.

According to the bill (A-4702), the purpose of the grant funding is to address state hunger, leverage more sustainable solutions to address basic food needs on campus, raise awareness of services currently offered on campus which address basic food needs 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,” the institution is required to, at a minimum:

· establish a 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;

· 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 bill, the Secretary of Higher Education would determine the amount of each grant which will be used by institutions of higher education 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.”

“48% of college students in our country have been reported as experiencing food insecurity in the past month alone,” said Lopez (D-Middlesex). “The ever-rising costs of college means that students must balance a job and school to pay for basic college expenses and necessities which sometimes can mean a student must skip a meal to pay for their education. This is simply unacceptable and the goal of this bill is to ensure, in New Jersey, our students are devoting their time to school as opposed to how they are going to get their next meal.”

Additionally, the Secretary would be required to submit a report to the Governor and legislature no later 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 institutions of higher education and reducing the number of students experiencing food insecurity, and recommendations on the expansion of the grant program.

This bill was introduced in October and was heard by the Assembly Human Services Committee as part of a 14-bill Anti-Hunger initiative.