The New Jersey state Senate approved the “Working Class Families Anti-Hunger Act,” which would expand access to free school meals in both public and non-public schools that participate in the federal National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs.
The bill, which already passed the full Assembly last June, and the Senate Budget and Appropriations last week, would expand access to free meals to more students from more families, further clarify that school breakfasts are included under the provisions for free school meals, and, following the successful advocacy of Agudath Israel, would ensure that non-public schools participating in federal lunch and breakfast programs are included.
These provisions would apply for the 2024-25 school year, during which the bill would further direct the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Education to review the reimbursement’s to school districts for the financial cost of the program, ensure cost efficiency, and report on the number of students who receive free meals through the program.
The information gathered during this time would inform future efforts or reforms to New Jersey’s school meal programs.
The bill is an expansion of the original Working Class Families’ Anti-Hunger Act, which was signed into law last year, which expanded eligibility to families who earn up to 200% of the federal poverty level and now allows families earning up to 224% of the federal poverty level.
For a family of four, 224% of the federal poverty level would be equivalent to an annual income of roughly $67,200.
Nonpublic schools were excluded from the 2022 expansion and were set to be excluded from this latest expansion as well. However, as a result of the advocacy of Agudath Israel’s New Jersey office, the bill’s sponsors have amended the bill to include private school children as well.
The bill, which passed the Senate 35-1, now heads to Governor Murphy for his signature.