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Nearly 1 million New Jersey residents suffer from hunger each year, according to Feeding America’s Map the Meal Gap 2018. The Supplemental Food Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, also known as food stamps) is the first line of defense against this pervasive hunger that strikes children, the elderly, the working poor, people with disabilities, veterans and others in communities across New Jersey.
About 750,000 New Jersey residents benefit from SNAP, but rules and restrictions mean many in need of this food aid go without. In fact, just 72 percent of eligible households participate – much lower than the national 85 participation rate.
Enact state policies to broaden assistance to all in need by reinstating “heat and eat,” which allows households receiving at least $21 per month in energy assistance to qualify for higher SNAP aid.
Examine work requirements to avoid punishing people who cannot find a job or participate in a training program and to strengthen job training programs to make them more effective.
Convene a working group to identify barriers and solutions to participation, including streamlining the application process, working with community organizations to conduct community outreach and removing other barriers that prevent people from receiving this critical assistance.
Combat College Hunger
More than a third of college students don’t always have enough to eat, yet only about one-third of hungry students access aid through SNAP, according to a 2018 U.S. Government Accountability Office report. PE Lab
Student hunger was cited as the third most important issue affecting college campuses, according to another survey conducted by the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators (NASPA).
Hungry college students may be forced to delay their education to make ends meet – setting them up for a cycle of poverty that becomes difficult to break.
Enact the Hunger Free Campus Act, (A-4702/S-3239), which would establish a fund to help colleges expand access to SNAP and enact other policies to combat campus hunger. The legislation was approved by the state Assembly in December 2019 and awaits action in the state Senate and then would require the governor’s signature to become law.
Expand Summer Meals and School Breakfast
Federal school breakfast and summer meals programs offer much-needed nutrition to children all year long. While New Jersey has made strong strides in expanding this nutrition to more children, tens of thousands of children remain unserved.
Legislation enacted in May 2018 promises to expand federal child nutrition assistance to more children by requiring high-poverty schools and districts to serve breakfast during the school day (breakfast after the bell) and participate in the federal Summer Food Service Program.
Hunger Free New Jersey will work with state officials and local communities to ensure successful implementation of this legislation and to measure progress toward the goal of ensuring all children have enough healthy food to each, every single day.
School districts and summer meals sponsors receive federal reimbursements for each meal served. If New Jersey served school breakfast to 70 percent of students who receive free and reduced-price lunch, it would receive $14 million more in federal reimbursements each year, according to the Food Research & Action Center. If New Jersey communities fed summer meals to 40 percent of low-income students, an additional $5.2 million would flow each year into communities across the state to feed hungry children.
Ban Lunch Shaming
Unfortunately, some parents fall behind on their children’s school meals fees. While this can present a fiscal hardship for some school districts, shaming and punishing students only hurts children, without addressing a family’s financial issues or restoring funding to school districts.
A new law requires school districts to report the number of students who are denied a meal because of past due accounts. The New Jersey Departments of Education and Agriculture should examine this data and use it to develop a model policy for school districts that provides effective, non-punitive ways to deal with unpaid school meals and prohibits shaming children when this does occur.
Address Senior Hunger
More than 230,000 New Jersey seniors face hunger each year, according to Meal On Wheels. National studies find that just 42 percent of eligible seniors receive SNAP. This means seniors are most likely to miss out on this critical assistance.
Change state policies to make it easier for seniors to apply for and receive SNAP, including streamlining the application process, conducting outreach to ensure all eligible seniors have access to SNAP and implementing a standard medical deduction to make more struggling seniors eligible.