TRENTON – A pair of bills sponsored by Senate Education Chair M. Teresa Ruiz and Senator Shirley K. Turner to reduce child hunger in New Jersey – by ensuring that eligible students are able to access two meals a day at school, but also that they do not go hungry during the summer months – was approved by the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee today.
“Child hunger should not be an issue in New Jersey, yet there are students every day that come to school hungry,” said Senator Ruiz (D-Essex). “We know how vital a nutritious meal is to preparing our students to learn, and we must do everything in our power to provide access to breakfast and lunch both during the school year, but also during the summer months. These bills will expand the successful breakfast after the bell program, encourage participation in breakfast and lunch programs and give us an opportunity to obtain federal funding to support them.”
“Making sure children have enough food to eat is critical both for their health and wellbeing, but also to ensuring they are able to learn to the best of their ability. This is about ensuring that our students are prepared for the school day, but also about getting the resources we are entitled to from the federal government,” 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 be part of the effort to reduce childhood hunger in our state and give young people the 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.
The first bill, S-1894, requires the “breakfast after the bell” program in all schools with 70% or more of students eligible for free or reduced price meals. Each district would be required to submit a plan for the establishment of a “breakfast after the bell” program within six months of the effective date of the bill. No later than one year after submission of the plan, the district would be required to implement the program.
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 second bill, S-1897, expands the summer meal program to all school districts with 50 percent or more of students eligible for free or reduced price meals. The bill requires each school district to become a sponsor of the Summer Food Service Program no later than two years following the date of enactment of this bill into law. 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.
Both bills were released from the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee S-1894 with a vote of 8-0, and S-1897 with a vote of 8-0, and now head to the full Senate for further consideration.