Sweeney-Ruiz-Lesniak Bill Would Boost ‘Breakfast After the Bell’ Program
Trenton – The Assembly gave final approval today to legislation sponsored by Senate President Steve Sweeney, Senator M. Teresa Ruiz and Senator Raymond Lesniak that would create a non-lapsing revolving fund in the Department of Agriculture – to be known as the “Nourishing Young Minds Initiative Fund”- that would allocate federal and state funds to increase participation in the “Breakfast After the Bell” program that provides meals to school children. The bill now goes to the governor’s desk.
A report from the Advocates for the Children of New Jersey found that New Jersey ranked 23rd out of the states for participation in the school breakfast program, with only 12 percent of secondary schools serving breakfast after the bell compared to one-third of elementary schools.
“The Breakfast After the Bell program has been successful, but we need to do more to increase participation and to reach our students. There is no excuse for childhood hunger in America,” said Senator Sweeney. “This legislation will provide additional funding for this program, which provides nutritious meals to students before they begin their school day.”
“Breakfast After the Bell,” or “Breakfast in the Classroom,” is a program that serves breakfast to students once the school day has officially started, rather than before school, when most students have not yet arrived. This approach, typically done in the classroom during the first few minutes of the school day, significantly boosts participation, giving more students a healthy start to the school day that can help them focus in class.
“This program is an essential component to combating childhood hunger, which we know is a major obstacle to learning,” said Senator Ruiz, who serves as chair of the Senate Education Committee. “Children cannot learn at their fullest potential when they skip breakfast, so making sure we are reaching as many students as possible with this program must be a priority.”
“The allocation of state funds will multiply our resources, because we will leverage the money to increase federal matching dollars,” said Senator Lesniak. “The federal government reimburses states based on how many meals schools serve to their students, so we don’t want to ‘leave food on the table.’”
Money in the “Nourishing Young Minds Initiative Fund” would be used by the Department of Agriculture to provide support and funding to child food and nutrition programs in the state, including: outreach and programmatic support by the Department of Agriculture, Department of Education, or community-based organizations; grants to fund one-time startup or expansion costs of “breakfast after the bell” programs; and grants to fund one-time start-up or expansion costs of summer nutrition programs.
The bill, S-2819, was approved by the Senate with a vote of 37-0. The Assembly approved the bill by a vote of 76-0. It now goes to the governor’s desk.