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Ruiz & Turner Bills to Reduce Child Hunger in NJ Signed by Governor

TRENTON – A package of bills sponsored by Senator M. Teresa Ruiz and Senator Shirley K. Turner to reduce child hunger in New Jersey – by ensuring that not only eligible students are able to access two meals a day at school, but that they also do not go hungry during the summer months – were signed into law by Governor Phil Murphy today.

“Signing these bills is a huge step in ameliorating childhood hunger in New Jersey. No student should go through their school day hungry, yet many do every day,” said Senator Ruiz (D-Essex).  “We know how vital a nutritious meal is to preparing our students to learn, and we are doing everything in our power to provide access to breakfast and lunch both during the school year and during the summer months.  These laws will expand the successful breakfast after the bell program, encourage participation in breakfast and lunch programs and give us an opportunity to obtain valuable federal funding to support them.”

“I applaud the Governor for enacting these laws which help ensure that New Jersey’s school children have enough food to support their health and wellbeing all year round and help them learn to the best of their ability during the school year.  These laws enable families to take advantage of the federal resources that meet their needs,” said Senator Turner (D-Mercer/ Hunterdon).  “We should not leave any money on the table in Washington, particularly when it can be used to provide nutritious meals to our children.  I am proud to have been part of this effort to reduce childhood hunger in our state and give our young people every opportunity they deserve to succeed.”

According to Advocates for Children of New Jersey, 540,000 students in New Jersey are eligible for free and reduced lunch in schools.  Students who are eligible for free and reduced lunch are also eligible for free and reduced breakfast, but only a fraction of those students are getting it.

Current law requires that a school have a breakfast program if at least 20 percent of their students qualify for free- or reduced-price lunch. However, a recent report by the Food Research and Action Center showed that New Jersey ranked 19th in the country for its low-income student participation rate.

New Jersey has made significant strides since 2011 when the state ranked 46th in the nation, but progress has since stalled.  One solution to the stagnating participation numbers is “breakfast after the bell,” which allows students to eat after the school day has begun, usually in their homeroom or the first 30 minutes of the school day.

The Governor signed the following bills aimed at improving access to school breakfast and lunch programs:

S-1894 (Ruiz/Turner) – Requires “breakfast after the bell” program in all schools with 70% or more of students eligible for free or reduced price meals.  Each district will be required to submit a plan for the establishment of a “breakfast after the bell” program within six months of the law’s effective date.  No later than one year after submission of the plan, the district will be required to implement the program.

S-1895 (Ruiz/Turner) – Requires school districts, with at least one school that qualifies for the “Community Eligibility Provision” to submit a report on nonparticipation.  The (CEP) is a federally funded reimbursement alternative for eligible, high-poverty local educational agencies and schools participating in both the National School Lunch Program and School Breakfast Program.  It allows the nation’s highest poverty schools and school districts to serve breakfast and lunch at no cost to all enrolled students without collecting individual household applications.

S-1896 (Ruiz/Turner) – Requires school districts to report quarterly to the Department of Agriculture the number of students who are denied school breakfast or school lunch.  The department will forward the information to the Department of Education.

S-1897 (Ruiz/Turner) – Expands summer meal program to all school districts with 50 percent or more of students eligible for free or reduced price meals. The law requires each school district to become a sponsor of the Summer Food Service Program within two years of enactment.  The “Summer Food Service Program” is a federal program that reimburses sponsors for administrative and operational costs to provide meals for children 18 years of age and younger during periods when they are out of school for 15 or more consecutive school days.