State and federal officials, emergency food providers and advocates gathered today to discuss federal issues related to reducing hunger, examining ways to fight threats while advancing efforts to ensure all New Jersey residents have healthy food to eat, every single day.

U.S. Representatives Frank Pallone and Josh Gottheimer, along with Congressional staff, attended the session, A Congressional Conversation: Hunger in New Jersey, sponsored by Hunger Free New Jersey and the New Jersey Healthy Kids Initiative – Rutgers University. The event was held at the New Jersey Institute for Food, Nutrition and Health at Rutgers University.

Topics included federal threats to food assistance, including attempts to intimidate immigrants away from food aid and other assistance, a proposal that would fundamentally change the way poverty is calculated, leaving more people unable to access assistance, and a plan to impose strict work requirements on people struggling to find work.

The session was moderated by celebrity chef and anti-hunger activist Tom Colicchio. Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin, who has been leading efforts to fight hunger in the Garden State, urged Congress to work together to reduce hunger.

“Hunger knows no stripes,’’ Coughlin said. “It just knows people. That’s the message that Congress needs to hear.’’

Congressman Pallone noted that there is largely bi-partisan support for federal food assistance programs, but that the Trump Administration is trying to advance harmful rules without Congressional approval.

Also participating was Human Services Commissioner Carole Johnson, who detailed recent steps the department has taken to increase Supplemental Nutrition Assistance (SNAP, aka food stamps) benefits to 27,000 New Jersey residents and boost SNAP participation among college students.

New Jersey Agriculture Secretary Douglas Fisher was also on hand, pointing to child nutrition programs like fresh fruits and vegetables, school breakfast and summer meals as important tools in the fight against hunger.

Adele LaTourette, director, Hunger Free New Jersey, noted that the Child Nutrition Act is being considered in Congress, providing an opportunity to strengthen these programs so they reach more New Jersey children in need.

Ellen Teller of the Food Research & Action Center urged participants to reach out to their Congressional representatives and invite them to visit their programs, so they can see firsthand how the aid they vote on impacts their own constituents.

Kim Guadagno, president & CEO, Fulfill, Carlos Rodriguez, president & CEO, Community FoodBank of New Jersey, Fred Wasiak, president & CEO, Food Bank of South Jersey all related the hunger they see every day in New Jersey and noted that without strong federal food aid programs, they would never be able to keep pace with the need.

Megan, a SNAP recipient, said that assistance saved her children from going to bed hungry and has helped her get back on her feet after leaving an abusive husband.

“There is no way I could feed my children without SNAP and school meals,’’ she said. “We aren’t lazy or looking for an easy way out. We’re starting over from ground zero and just need some help to get back on our feet.’’