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Ruiz Bill to Expand Access to Free School Meals Advances


TRENTON – The Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee advanced legislation sponsored by Senate Majority Leader M. Teresa Ruiz that would expand access to free school meals in both public and non-public schools that participate in the federal National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs.


“Our school breakfast and lunch programs are sometimes, unfortunately, the only place where students get access to meals,” said Majority Leader Ruiz (D-Essex). “Food insecurity is a reality in all of our communities. Any and every effort made to ensure that our children are fed are good investments in their health and well-being. A student should not be worried about where their next meal will be.”


The bill, S-4055, would expand access to free meals to more students from more families, further clarify that school breakfasts are included under the provisions for free school meals, and ensure that non-public schools participating in federal lunch and breakfast programs are included. These provisions would apply for the 2024-25 school year, during which the bill would further direct the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Education to review the reimbursement’s to school districts for the financial cost of the program, ensure cost efficiency, and report on the number of students who receive free meals through the program. The information gathered during this time would inform future efforts or reforms to New Jersey’s school meal programs.


In 2022, New Jersey enacted the “Working Class Families’ Anti-Hunger Act”, which expanded access to free school lunch for children whose families annually earned not more than 199% of the federal poverty level. This bill further expands access to free meals to students who come from families with an annual household income of not more than 224% of the federal poverty level. For a family of four, 224% of the federal poverty level would be equivalent to an annual income of roughly $67,200. A more detailed breakdown of the federal government’s poverty guidelines can be found here.