PRESS RELEASE November-21-2016

Sweeney, Ruiz, Lesniak & Taliaferro Announce Childhood Anti-Hunger Initiative

Plan Would Expand the ‘Breakfast After the Bell Program’

TRENTON – Senate President Steve Sweeney, Senator M. Teresa Ruiz, Senator Raymond Lesniak and Assemblyman Adam Taliaferro today launched an initiative to help alleviate childhood hunger by expanding a successful program that that provides free and reduced-price breakfasts in New Jersey’s schools. The Senators want to include more students in the federally-supported “Breakfast After The Bell” program that provides meals for children from low-income families after the start of school each day and in summer programs.

“Hunger in America is a quiet crisis that forces a growing number of children to go without food,” said Senator Sweeney. “This is a solvable problem that can be alleviated by extending the already successful ‘Breakfast After the Bell’ program to reach more children.”

The existing program has proven to be increasingly successful, providing 240,577 children with meals in 2016, up from 135,813 in 2010, but there are still an estimated 302,000 young students who qualify but are not participating, the senators said.

“It is hard for students to learn if they are forced to go through a school day on an empty stomach. Providing a nutritious meal in the morning is beneficial to their growth and development,” said Senator Ruiz. “ This program, which offers students meals in schools, provides a comprehensive holistic approach to addressing our children’s needs,” said Senator Ruiz, chair of the Senate Education Committee.

More than 1 million people in New Jersey – including 340,000 children – are classified as “food insecure,” meaning they don’t know where their next meal is coming from.

“No child should go hungry in America and no parent should have to live with the fear of not knowing where their family’s next meal is coming from,” said Senator Lesniak, who has championed a number of anti-hunger initiatives. “Society is judged by how it treats its children and those in need. We can and we must do better in addressing a hunger crisis that is especially acute in high-poverty communities.”

Providing the breakfast meals after the start of the school day reaches more students, the senators said.

“This program has proven to be successful in putting food on the table for children who are underfed and undernourished,” said Assemblyman Taliaferro. ”We need to build on that success by expanding the reach to more students in more schools. They shouldn’t be forced to go hungry when the resources are available to help feed them.”

Joining Senator Sweeney, Senator Lesniak and Assemblyman Adam Taliaferro were Adele LaTourette of the Anti-Hunger Network, the New Jersey Food for Thought Campaign, Cecila Zalkind of the Advocates for Children of New Jersey, and Jessica Hewis from the Washington, D.C.-based Food Research and Action Center.

The bill will establish a non-lapsing, revolving fund in the Department of Agriculture to be known as the “Nourishing Young Minds Initiative Fund.”  The bill requires that all money appropriated by the Legislature, federal and other grants received by the state, and any other money be made available for the breakfast program. The fund can be used by both the department and by advocates for outreach and support to get those who qualify to participate.  This would include helping schools develop plans for the programs, assisting schools with applying for grants, helping parents fill out required paperwork and other similar needs.

The Legislature will appropriate $400,000 through the budget process for the fund, which would be used to help schools with the costs of facilitating the program, Senator Sweeney and Senator Lesniak said. The breakfast program itself is paid for by the federal government.

To qualify for the program the family must earn below 130 percent of the poverty level, and to qualify for reduced price meals the family must be between 130 percent and 185 percent of the poverty level. The poverty level in New Jersey is $24,300 for a family of four. The number of children whose families meet the income guidelines has risen by 21 percent since 2010, “a clear indication that many more families struggle to put food on the table,” said Senator Lesniak.

New Jersey is making progress. In 2010, about 136,000 students ate breakfast at school. Last year, that number was close to 241,000.

“Despite the tremendous progress we have made in serving school breakfast to more children, about 300,000 low-income students are still missing out on this all-important morning meal,” said Cecilia Zalkind, president & CEO, Advocates for Children of New Jersey, which co-chairs the New Jersey Food for Thought Campaign. “This fund will help to build on our successful efforts and ensure that every single child starts their school day with the nutrition they need to grow and learn.’’
“We know that tens of thousands of New Jersey children face hunger each and every day,” said Adele LaTourette, director, New Jersey Anti-Hunger Coalition, which co-chairs the New Jersey Food for Thought Campaign.  “This is unacceptable anywhere, but especially in a state as wealthy as New Jersey. This legislation is a great step toward solving childhood hunger and we applaud the sponsors for making anti-hunger initiatives a priority.’’