TRENTON – Among the many bills positioned for final votes as the Legislature completes its push to approve the budget and start its election-year recess are five addressing hunger-related issues, long a priority of Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin.

The bills include two that address how SNAP food-assistance benefits are administered, two that seek to enhance summer and breakfast-after-the bell meals for students starting in a year and one establishing an Office of the Food Insecurity Advocate.

Assemblywoman Lisa Swain, D-Bergen, said food insecurity is one of the many challenges imposed by the pandemic.

“It would be an understatement to say New Jersey residents have had a very difficult year and a half,” Swain said.

“The package of bills seeks to improve and enhance access to food assistance programs in our state so that families won’t have to worry about where their next meal with come from,” she said.

The bills appear likely to be approved this week, as part of the enactment of the new state budget, though they aren’t listed on the agenda for Monday’s voting sessions. A budget agreement is possible Monday, followed by Tuesday committee votes and final approval on Thursday.

A budget must be in place before the new fiscal year begins July 1.

The package of bills would increase state spending on hunger initiatives by around $5 million, most of it for a program encouraging schools to provide ‘breakfast after the bell’ programs by adding a 10-cent a meal state subsidy.

Assemblywoman Aura Dunn, R-Morris, said she was in the school breakfast program as a kid and knows its value – but also hears from school officials about how much milk and food gets left behind in the program currently.

“We know that there’s a lot of waste in this program, which the federal government needs to address. But I don’t want to be getting behind something that only adds to that,” Dunn said.

Dunn said the program is important but needs to be permissive, not mandatory, so schools can figure out the most suitable way to offer nourishment at the start of the day.

“And to suggest that we should be adding state resources to now offer even more food, I think we can be approaching this in a much more efficient manner and managing it better,” she said.

Assemblywoman Angelica Jimenez, D-Hudson, said depending on the part of the state, not all students are able to arrive for early morning meals before the bell.

“Kids don’t make it. I mean, they’re lucky if they make it on time to school. So, I think that is probably why this is being addressed,” Jimenez said.

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There are five bills in the hunger package:

  • A5880/S3941 Directs the Department of Human Services (DHS) to develop mobile-friendly software for SNAP recipients
  • A5881/S3942 Requires DHS to stagger issuance dates of SNAP benefits to newly eligible enrollees, to limit lines at grocery stores
  • A5882/S3943 Establishes a state supplement for federal summer food service program meals; starts 6/1/22
  • A5883/S3944 Establishes a state supplement for “breakfast after the bell” meals; starts 2022-23 school year, rather than immediately
  • A5884/S3945 Establishes an Office of the Food Insecurity Advocate

Michael Symons is State House bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5. Contact him at michael.symons@townsquaremedia.com.

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