TRENTON – Responding to increasing food insecurity throughout New Jersey as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Senate today approved a bill sponsored by Senate President Steve Sweeney that would allocate $10 million in federal funds to support food banks throughout the state.
The legislation, S-3527/A-5405, was also approved by the Assembly, where it was sponsored by Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin. It now goes to the Governor.
“Hunger in America is a quiet crisis that has been made worse by the pandemic,” said Senator Sweeney (D-Gloucester/Salem/Cumberland). “The economic fallout has made it tragically hard for a growing number of families to put food on their tables. Food banks provide a lifeline for those who experience the insecurity of not knowing where their next meal is coming from.”
The bill would appropriate $10 million from the federal CARES Act for distribution to food banks by the New Jersey Department of Agriculture.
More than 1.2 million people in New Jersey face hunger every day. Nearly 400,000 of them are children. When they don’t have enough food to eat, they can suffer direct and dramatic effects on their physical development and mental wellbeing, Senator Sweeney said.
Foodbanks have experienced a double-squeeze in responding to the crisis, facing both skyrocketing demand and rising food prices, Senator Sweeney said.
A recent report projects an increase of more than 50 percent in food insecurity throughout New Jersey from before the pandemic hit, with rates higher in communities of color, households with at least one non-citizen, rural areas, and in households that have experienced job loss.
The bill would allocate $9,900,000 to: the Community Food Bank of New Jersey, $5,200,000; the Food Bank of South Jersey, $1,500,000; Fulfill Monmouth & Ocean, $1,500,000; Mercer Street Friends Food Bank, $1,100,000; Norwescap, $300,000; and Southern Regional Food Distribution Center, $300,000; and Farmers Against Hunger, $100,000.
It would also send $100,000 to the New Jersey Agricultural Society-Farmers Against Hunger Program for the collection and distribution of excess food from farms, markets, and other entities to organizations that provide food to those in need.
Fred C. Wasiak, the President and CEO of the Food Bank of South Jersey, praised the legislative action.
“The continued support of the state and federal government is vital in providing the Food Bank of South Jersey with the ability to address the immediate needs of an escalated food-insecure population, which has grown from 1 in 11 to 1 in 7 residents since the onset of the pandemic,” said Wasiak. “We are continuing to see a population devastated by food insecurity, with more than 61,000 people – including over 26,650 children – estimated to be new to food insecurity due to the pandemic. In 2020, we distributed more than 22 million pounds of food, the equivalent of more than 18 million meals, including a dramatic increase in child feeding from approximately 300,000 children’s meals in 2019 to nearly one million children’s meals distributed in 2020.”