Latest hunger bills force every school in NJ to offer free lunch program
TRENTON — Eleven hunger bills in New Jersey were approved by an Assembly committee on Monday, including a requirement that every school participate in the free breakfast and lunch program.
The package is the fourth taken in recent years to fight hunger. All but one of the bills have been sent to a second committee for another hearing, so approval by the Assembly’s Agriculture and Food Security Committee is only a first step in the process.
“As a state, I believe 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 primary sponsor of one of the bills: A2368, called the “Working Class Family Hunger Act.” It’s the bill requiring all schools to have free lunch programs, including those that don’t have to offer it now because a small number of low-income children are eligible – under 5. % to avoid having a meal plan, or less than 20% to avoid having a breakfast plan.
“Because there are people who live in what we consider to be affluent communities who often struggle to pay their bills and meet those needs and often face challenges that some other districts don’t face in because of the potential stigma that comes with it,” Coughlin says.
The bill also extends eligibility for free school breakfasts and lunches to students from families with incomes between 185% of the federal poverty level — which is the current threshold — and 199%. It adds about 26,500 students, at a cost to the state of about $19 million per year.
Coughlin said that for families who become eligible, it reduces their estimated monthly food budget by 22% to around $1,000, or more than $200.
“And that’s money that parents will be able to put back in their pockets so they can do more for their kids,” Coughlin said.
The rest of the package includes:
–> A2359 (Tucker/Moen/Haider) Provides streamlining of the SNAP request process and establishes a call center for SNAP requests;
–> A2360 Reynolds-Jackson/Mukherji/Speight) Eliminates the requirement that participation in the NJ SNAP employment and training program is mandatory for certain recipients;
–> A2361 (Jimenez/Sumter/Timberlake) Requires DHS to develop and implement a SNAP outreach plan; appropriates funds;
–> A2362 (Freiman, Mosquera/Sampson) Requires DHS to submit a federal waiver request regarding timelines for certain SNAP recipients in certain circumstances;
–> A2363 (Stanley/Mejia/Lopez) Relates to SNAP services provided in County Boards of Social Services;
–> A2364 (Spearman, Pintor Marin/Atkins) Grants an additional $800,000 DOH appropriation for fiscal year 2022 to implement an electronic benefits transfer system for the Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program;
–> A2365 (Danielsen/Giblin/Jaffer) Demand that the DOA engage in a public education campaign to educate parents and guardians of students about options for existing and expanding school lunch programs in New Jersey ;
–> A2366 (McKnight/Carter/Verrelli) Requires DHS to issue an additional $15 monthly SNAP benefit to seniors and registrants with disabilities; allocates $20.5 million to DHS;
–> A2367 (Swain/Greenwald/Wimberly) Raises the income eligibility threshold, over three years, to 50% of the federal poverty level for families with dependent children under the Work First New program Jersey.
–> ACR109 (Karabinchak, Murphy/Calabrese) Urges the United States Congress to pass the “Universal School Meals Program Act of 2021”.
Michael Symons is the State House Bureau Chief for New Jersey 101.5. Contact him at [email protected].