Latest hunger bills make every NJ school offer free lunch program
TRENTON – Eleven bills addressing hunger in New Jersey were endorsed by an Assembly committee Monday, including a requirement that every school participates in the free breakfast and lunch program.
The package is the fourth taken up in recent years addressing hunger. All the bills except one were sent to a second committee for another hearing, so the approval by the Assembly Agriculture and Food Security Committee is just a first step in the process.
“As a state, I believe that we have an obligation that transcends our governmental obligation to almost a moral obligation to help people who are food insecure,” said Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin, D-Middlesex.
Coughlin is the lead sponsor of one of the bills: A2368, called the ‘Working Class Families’ Anti-Hunger Act.’ That’s the bill requiring all schools to have free meal programs, including those that don’t have to offer it now because small numbers of low-income kids are eligible – less than 5% to avoid having a lunch program, or less than 20% to avoid having a breakfast program.
“Because there are people who live in what we consider to be affluent communities who often struggle to pay their bills and to meet those needs and often face challenges that some other districts don’t because of the potential stigma that goes along with that,” Coughlin said.
The bill also expands eligibility for free breakfasts and lunches at school to students from families whose incomes are between 185% of the federal poverty level – which is the current thresholds – and 199%. It adds around 26,500 students, at a cost to the state of around $19 million a year.
Coughlin said for families who become eligible, it reduced their estimated monthly food budget of around $1,000 by 22%, or more than $200.
“And that’s money that parents will be able to get back in their pockets so they can do more for their children,” Coughlin said.
The rest of the package includes:
--> A2359 (Tucker/Moen/Haider) Provides for streamlining of SNAP application process and establishes SNAP application call center;
--> A2360 Reynolds-Jackson/Mukherji/Speight) Eliminates the requirement that participation in NJ SNAP Employment and Training Program is mandatory for certain recipients;
--> A2361 (Jimenez/Sumter/Timberlake) Requires DHS to develop and implement SNAP outreach plan; appropriates funds;
--> A2362 (Freiman, Mosquera/Sampson) Requires DHS to submit a federal waiver request regarding time limits for certain SNAP recipients under certain circumstances;
--> A2363 (Stanley/Mejia/Lopez) Concerns SNAP services provided at county boards of social services;
--> A2364 (Spearman, Pintor Marin/ Atkins) Makes FY2022 supplemental appropriation of $800,000 to DOH to implement electronic benefits transfer system for Senior Farmers' Market Nutrition Program;
--> A2365 (Danielsen/Giblin/Jaffer) Require the DOA to engage in a public education campaign to educate parents and guardians of students about existing and expanding school meals program options in New Jersey;
--> A2366 (McKnight/Carter/Verrelli) Requires DHS to issue a monthly supplemental SNAP benefit of $15 to senior citizens and disabled enrollees; appropriates $20.5 million to DHS;
--> A2367 (Swain/Greenwald/Wimberly) Increases income eligibility threshold, over three-year period, to 50 percent of federal poverty level for families with dependent children under Work First New Jersey program.
--> ACR109 (Karabinchak, Murphy/Calabrese) Urges United States Congress to pass the “Universal School Meals Program Act of 2021.”
Michael Symons is State House bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.