Gov. Phil Murphy signed the “Working Class Families’ Anti-Hunger Act” into law today, expanding the state’s free and reduced price school meals program to more schools and families; the governor also signed a related bill creating a campaign to raise public awareness about school meal options.
“[These bills] will help us refocus our fight against food insecurity,” Murphy said today in South Amboy. “They will ensure that our kids are more fully prepared to excel in their studies, so they can excel in their lives. And through it all, they will make life in New Jersey a little bit more affordable for countless working- and middle-class families.”
The Anti-Hunger Act expands free and reduced meal programs to include students from middle-income families, narrowly defined as families with an annual household income of between 186% and 199% of the federal poverty level. Currently, federal law only covers students from low-income families or those who are homeless, in foster care, or eligible in some other way.
The act also requires that any school where at least 10% of students are federally eligible for free or reduced price meals offer a school breakfast program, down from 20% under current law.
“The Act is critical to meeting the needs of many working families and puts us on a direct path to feeding breakfast and lunch to every child who needs it,” Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin (D-Woodbridge), the act’s lead sponsor in the Assembly, said in a statement. “Helping keep money in people’s pockets, while ensuring more New Jersey students and their families can rely on access to the free school meals they need for success, has never been more important.”
Both bills passed the legislature in June on near-unanimous votes, with a small number of conservative Republican defecting in the Assembly.
“For many children throughout New Jersey, the meals they receive in school are their only source of food each day,” said Senate Majority Leader Teresa Ruiz (D-Newark), who spearheaded the bill in the Senate. “That is why universal free lunch at school is a goal our state should strive to make a reality and today we take a step closer in order to help all struggling families which is not specific exclusively to low income ones.”