⚫ A bill spells out a plan to redirect unused meal-plan money at state colleges

⚫ The proposal will likely be adjusted significantly before moving forward

⚫ Colleges say it's built in to negotiations that many meals will go unused

When the college semester ends, students with a meal plan don't get any money back for what's gone unused.

Some lawmakers in New Jersey are looking to change that and do some good with the leftover funds.

Under a measure advanced by an Assembly committee, public colleges and universities would have to give students the option to donate their unused meal-plan money to a fund that would be distributed to food banks in the state.

But chances are, the legislation will be tweaked significantly before continuing to advance. Folks in the industry say making that redirect is not so simple, and even if it were, colleges themselves can benefit from the unused food money.

Unused funds are part of the equation

In testimony before the Assembly Higher Education Committee, Morganne Dudzinski, interim executive director of the New Jersey Association of State Colleges and Universities, noted that negotiations between schools and food vendors come with the assumption that a certain percentage of meals will go unused — perhaps as much as 30 to 40%.

"It helps keep costs down for the institutions," Dudzinski said.

Because of that, colleges can't simply transfer unused funds to the New Jersey Emergency Meal Fund, which is the beneficiary mentioned in the bill.

But Dudzinski said it's possible for institutions to examine whether future contracts can include funds that are set aside for food insecurity.

The bill says that any meal dollars donated to the state fund would then be distributed to a network of food banks in the state. Colleges say there's no need to send unused money off campus — there are plenty of food-insecure individuals right under their noses: the students. Many colleges have food pantries on site.

Senate Majority Leader Teresa Ruiz, D-Essex, one of the sponsors of the legislation, said she will be hosting a meeting with stakeholders and universities in a few weeks.

The meeting, Ruiz said, will help legislators “to be sure that we’re not being wasteful with food, or with money and resources on our college campuses, when in fact there’s students who are food insecure, right in those same spaces.”

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