Gov. Phil Murphy on Jan. 16 signed A5684/S4055, which will make New Jersey students from more than 60,000 families newly eligible for free school meals under 2022’s Working Class Families’ Anti-Hunger Act.

A5684/S4055 calls for schools participating in the National School Lunch Program and/or the federal School Breakfast Program to provide a free school lunch and/or breakfast to those students whose families have an annual household income of up to 224 percent of the federal poverty level. (Two years ago, when the Working Class Families’ Anti-Hunger Act became law in New Jersey, its income eligibility level was up to about 200 percent of the federal poverty level.)

“Back in the fall of 2022, I believe, we signed legislation into law that expanded access to free, nutritious school breakfasts and lunches for literally thousands of New Jersey schoolchildren,” Murphy said Jan. 16 from the South Amboy Elementary School gym. “Today we’re building on that progress with legislation that will help prevent even more children from going through the school day on an empty stomach. … In addition to ensuring our children are fed and nourished, this legislation will also … give our kids the support they need to fully focus on their studies and ultimately excel in their lives.”

AFTNJ President Donna M. Chiera, who attended the bill signing Jan. 16, afterward recalled that during her teaching career in Perth Amboy, the breakfast and lunch served at her school were the only consistent meals most of her students could count on. With that in mind, she would stock a complementary “goodie drawer,” and on half days, she’d incorporate a cooking lesson into her curriculum “so my students wouldn’t go home without having lunch.”

“These are things teachers throughout our state do on a daily basis,” Chiera added. “We understand that having food in your belly helps your body stay healthy so you can attend school. And knowing that free, nutritious food is available at school frees your mind so you can socially, emotionally and academically function in the classroom.”

With food insecurity increasing across America, Chiera appreciates that Murphy and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin, among other elected leaders in New Jersey, have passed legislation through the years expanding student access to free school meals.

“Actions such as these will bolster New Jersey’s reputation for having a world-class education system,” she said.

ABOVE: Gov. Phil Murphy prepares to sign A5684/S4055 on Jan. 16 at South Amboy Elementary School. (Photo by Chris M. Junior)

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