TRENTON – In an effort to better support working families, the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee advanced legislation today sponsored by Senate Majority Leader M. Teresa Ruiz and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin which would gradually expand the state’s free school lunch program until it applies to all students in the state.
“We have taken various steps over the last several years to expand New Jersey’s free school meals program and this legislation will finally put us on track to make universal free school lunch a reality,” said Majority Leader Ruiz (D-Essex). “I am grateful to have had Speaker Coughlin as a partner in these efforts and I look forward to seeing the impact this has on families around the state. We know our children learn better when their bellies are full and this measure will ensure everyone can eat lunch, no questions asked.”
The bill, S-3956/A-5573, would gradually expand eligibility for the subsidized school lunch program over a five year period until all students are eligible, regardless of students’ income or federal eligibility.
“With this legislation, we are combatting the hunger crisis impacting our communities by creating a clear path to provide every child in New Jersey with the option of a free and nutritious lunch,” said Speaker Coughlin (D-Middlesex). “Universal free school lunch keeps money in the pockets of New Jersey families, and it helps overcome the stigma attached to free or reduced price school meals. By expanding access, we can ensure every student eats during the school day.”
All students who become newly eligible for free school lunch would also be eligible to continue receiving free lunches through a summer meals program or through an emergency meals distribution program.
Under the bill, the State would be required to provide funding to reimburse school districts for the cost of providing free lunch to state-eligible students who currently are federally ineligible under the National School Lunch Program or federal School Breakfast Program.