Governor Murphy Signs Legislation Expanding Access to School Meals for New Jersey Students

Governor Murphy signed legislation that expands access to free school breakfast and lunch to more students in the Garden State. This legislation, sponsored by Speaker Coughlin and Senator Teresa Ruiz, would increase income eligibility for free school meals to 225% of the federal poverty level, ensuring that more children in struggling working families have access to healthy school meals. For example, under the new law, children in a family of four with a gross annual income under $67,500 would now have access to free school breakfast and lunch.

“This is a step in the right direction and moves us closer to the ultimate goal of providing free school meals for all children in New Jersey,” said Lisa Pitz, director of Hunger Free New Jersey.

Rising housing, food and other cost of living expenses have made it more difficult for many working families in New Jersey to make ends meet and put food on the table. About 37% of households in New Jersey had earnings that were not enough to afford the basics in the communities where they live, according to the 2023 United for ALICE report which calculates the cost of household essentials for all counties in New Jersey. And according to USDA’s recent report, about one in ten children in New Jersey live in households that experience food insecurity.

This legislation also directs the Office of the Food Security Advocate to create a working group on school food security and develop practices, policies, and plans to promote and expand on New Jersey’s school meal programs.

“Hunger can have serious, negative impacts on a student’s academic performance. No child’s grades should suffer because they are dealing with the physical and emotional effects of hunger,” said Pitz.

The consequences of hunger on our students are well documented. Children who struggle with hunger not only have a harder time learning but are also more likely to struggle with chronic illnesses, mental health issues and behavioral problems. These problems can follow children throughout their lives, even impacting their financial prosperity.

This bill is the next step on the path to free school meals for all students, and comes on the heels of the Working-Class Families’ Anti-Hunger Act, legislation signed last year by Governor Murphy which increased income eligibility for free school meals from 185% to 200% of the federal poverty level. In 2019, New Jersey passed legislation to eliminate the copays for students qualifying for reduced price meals.

“School meals are critical to children’s health and well-being, and they ensure that students have the nutrition they need to learn throughout the day,” said Pitz. “Hunger Free New Jersey applauds Governor Murphy, Speaker Coughlin, Majority Leader Ruiz, and members of the Legislature for championing these efforts to expand free school meals to more children and we look forward to continuing to work together so that all children in our state have access to healthy, free meals at school.”