Trenton – The Senate today advanced a package of bills to promote and enhance food security:
S-1677, the “Working Class Families’ Anti-Hunger Act,” sponsored by Senate Majority Leader M. Teresa Ruiz and Senator Joe Vitale, would require schools to provide free school breakfasts and lunches to students from working class to middle-income families earning up to 199 percent of the federal poverty level.
“Food insecurity is becoming a stark reality for more residents across the state,” said Senator Ruiz (D-Essex). “For many children, the meals they receive in school may be their only reliable source of food each day. Unfortunately, even the cost of reduced breakfast and lunch can be financially straining for families struggling to make ends meet. By expanding free school meals to more children, we can effectively support New Jersey families and foster a healthy academic experience for all students.”
“Given the sharp increase in the cost of living, food insecurity is a major concern for many families around the state. Data has long shown a correlation between having access to nutritious meals and the ability of schoolchildren to learn,” said Senator Vitale, Chair of the Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee. “The ‘Working Class Families’ Anti-Hunger Act’ would help alleviate some of the economic burden for working families across New Jersey.”
S-1928, sponsored by Senator Vin Gopal and Senator Ruiz, would require school food authorities to engage in public education campaigns and develop promotional materials to educate parents and guardians of students about existing and expanding school meals programs options.
“The effectiveness of increased school food programs is dependent on outreach and on helping as many families as possible. This bill would educate eligible families about what food resources and programs are available,” said Senator Gopal.
S-2016, sponsored by Senator Andrew Zwicker and Senator Ruiz, would require the Department of Human Services, in cooperation with community-based organizations and county welfare agencies, to develop and implement a comprehensive outreach plan for the New Jersey Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).
“Recent data reveals that only 70 percent of eligible households participate in the SNAP program, which means a substantial number of eligible families who could benefit are not,” said Senator Zwicker (D-Middlesex/Mercer/Somerset/ Hunterdon). “Creating a SNAP outreach program would ensure more families are aware of and able to take advantage of a program that serves as a food security blanket for so many.”
S-2017, sponsored by Senator Linda Greenstein and Senator Ruiz, would appropriate $800,000 to the Department of Health to utilize the funds to implement the use of electronic benefit transfer cards for residents participating in the Senior Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program (SFMNP).
“Low-income seniors rely on the SFMNP program to access locally grown fresh fruit and vegetables. This bill would modernize the SFMNP program and provide ways that are more convenient for eligible seniors to make use of their benefits,” said Senator Greenstein (D-Middlesex/Mercer).
S-2033, sponsored by Senator Nellie Pou and Senator Ruiz, would require the Department of Human Services to establish a training program for county boards of social services that assist individuals with the SNAP enrollment and recertification process.
S-2034, sponsored by Senator Nilsa Cruz-Perez and Senator Pou, would require the Commissioner of Human Services to review and streamline the SNAP application process, to the maximum extent permissible under federal law.
“The SNAP program serves as an invaluable resource to low-income households. By streamlining the application process we can increase the accessibility and convenience of the program by requiring a quicker turnaround time to inform households of eligibility status,” said Senator Cruz-Perez (D-Camden/Gloucester).
“Eliminating food insecurity is a crucial goal of the Legislature. This bill would maximize the efficiency of the SNAP program and decrease the waiting period for eligible families to receive assistance,” said Senator Pou (D-Passaic/Bergen).
S-2035, sponsored by Senator Sandra B. Cunningham and Senator Ruiz, would allow participation in the SNAP Employment and Training Program to be voluntary.
“Families and individuals face numerous hurdles to access assistance which can deter them from seeking or utilizing available resources. This bill would eliminate an unnecessary obstacle and assist in streamlining the SNAP application process,” said Senator Cunningham (D-Hudson).
S-2036, sponsored by Senator Gordon Johnson and Senator Ruiz, would require the Commissioner of Human Services to apply for a federal waiver of the SNAP time limit for able-bodied adults without dependents that meet federal waiver criteria.
“The SNAP employment requirement and the current time limit disproportionately affect the well-being of minority communities,” said Senator Johnson (D-Bergen). “The elimination of the time limit would remove the additional pressure of food insecure individuals to report employment within a limited time frame.”
S-2156, sponsored by Senator Joseph Lagana, would direct the Division of Family Development to issue a monthly supplemental benefit of $50 to each eligible SNAP enrollee, if the enrollee is a senior citizen or an individual with a disability.
“Senior citizens and residents with disabilities are tasked with unique challenges and deserve increased assistance to address these challenges adequately,” said Senator Lagana (D-Bergen/Passaic). “This additional benefit would provide eligible residents with increased financial assistance to enhance self-sufficiency and effectively provide for their dependents.”
The series of bills were released from the Senate by a vote of 39-0, 40-0, 39-1, 40-0, 39-1, 39-1, 39-1, 37-2, and 40-0.