Two New Laws Tackle Food Insecurity in NJ Schools
On September 9, 2022, Governor Murphy signed two bills aimed at combatting food insecurity in New Jersey’s students.
Bill A2368/S1677 requires New Jersey schools to provide free breakfasts and lunches to students from working-class and middle-income families.
Bill A2365/S1928 requires school food authorities to engage in public education campaigns and develop promotional materials to educate parents about existing and expanding school meal program options.
Food insecurity refers to the US Department of Agriculture’s measure of lack of access, at times, to enough food for an active, healthy life for all household members and limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate foods.
Food insecure households do not have to always be food insecure. Food insecurity may reflect a household’s need to make trade-offs between essential basic needs, such as housing or medical bills, and purchasing nutritionally adequate foods.
The United States Department of Agriculture estimates that in 2019, about 762,530 people, including 192,580 children, in New Jersey were food insecure. This means 1 in 12 New Jerseyans (8.6%) and 1 in 10 NJ children (~9.9%) live in homes without consistent access to healthy foods.
The food insecurity rate among all New Jersey residents decreased between 2011 and 2019, as did national rates of food insecurity.
Cape May, Cumberland, and Hudson Counties had the highest rates of food insecurity for all ages (11.3%, 11.3%, and 11.1%, respectively) and were the only three New Jersey counties with a food insecurity rate above the average US rate (10.9%).
Cumberland County had the highest rate of childhood food insecurity (16.7%) and only four other New Jersey counties (Essex, Salem, Atlantic, and Cape May) surpassed the national rate of 14.6%.
Overall, New Jersey has the fourth lowest overall and third lowest child food insecurity rates among all U.S. states.
Morris County had the third lowest food insecurity rate of all New Jersey counties, at 5.8%, followed by Hunterdon (5.5%) and Somerset (5.2%).
The current target for the USDA is a national 6% food insecurity rate, which would require lowering the current national average from 10.9%.
What is being done in New Jersey?
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) are two programs New Jersey created to help low-income families break out of the cycle of hunger and diet-related disease, Both programs augment households’ food budgets, allowing families to purchase more healthy foods, and provide nutrition education to participants.
The New Jersey Department of Agriculture also administers several food distribution programs and child and adult nutrition programs, check them out here.
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