New Jersey expands eligibility for free school breakfast and lunch
Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin speaking in South Amboy on Sept. 9, 2022, before Gov. Phil Murphy signed a bill increasing access to free school breakfast and lunch. (Courtesy of New Jersey Governor’s Office)
Another 26,000 New Jersey students will be eligible to receive free school breakfast and lunch starting next year under a bill Gov. Phil Murphy signed into law Friday.
The law, called the Working Class Families’ Anti-Hunger Act, seeks to help more children from low- and middle-income families avoid going hungry. The legislation slightly expands the tax brackets eligible for the state’s existing free or reduced meals program.
Every New Jersey school will also be required to offer a free or reduced breakfast and lunch program, regardless of how many students in the school are eligible.
State Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin, a prime sponsor of the measure, noted the law comes on the heels of the federal program providing free school lunches during the pandemic lapsing in June. He also pointed to the effects of inflation on low- and middle-income families.
“We all recognize how important having a healthy breakfast and lunch is to everybody and how it impacts their ability to succeed,” said Coughlin (D-Middlesex).
He stressed the legislation is a step toward helping all struggling families, including those who faced increased food insecurity during the pandemic.
Food insecurity affects 1 in 12 residents and 1 in 10 children, according to state and federal data. In 2019, more than 762,500 residents, including 192,580 children, reported they could not afford balanced meals, skipped meals due to financial constraints, or worried about their food supply running out.
More than 395,000 children received free or reduced school breakfast and lunch between 2019 and 2020.
Prior to the bill (A2368) being signed into law, the program was capped for families who were at 185% of the federal poverty level. Now, eligibility increases to families at 200% of that level, which translates to households with three children earning up to $46,060. For families with two children, the income cutoff will be $36,620.
The program will cost about $19 million a year and will be implemented starting in the 2023-2024 academic year.
The governor was also joined by State Sen. Teresa Ruiz (D-Essex), who downplayed the program’s cost, saying the amount of food schools get rid of “is enough to cover every single child to get free breakfast and free lunch.”
Murphy signed a second measure (A2365) requiring school officials to educate parents on the expanded meal programs through public education campaigns and promotional materials.
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