Aiming to help college students facing food insecurity, a bill sponsored by Assembly Democrats Benjie Wimberly, Mila Jasey, Raj Mukherji and Yvonne Lopez to establish a program that would provide grants to institutions designated by the Secretary of Higher Education as hunger-free college campuses received final legislative approval on Thursday. It passed the Senate 33-0-7.
The grants provided under the 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,” 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 bill, the Secretary of Higher Education would 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.”
“No college student should have to worry about where their next meal will come from,” said Lopez (D-Middlesex). “They deserve to pursue their academic and professional goals free of the added stress that comes with food insecurity. Hunger-free campuses will be a haven for these students.”
Additionally, the Secretary would 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.
Prior to approval by the Senate, the bill was approved by the full Assembly 62-8-2. It is part of 14-bill anti-hunger initiative spearheaded by Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin.
The measure now heads to the Governor’s desk.