Gottheimer calls for extension of school breakfast, lunch for all students
NEW JERSEY — U.S. Congressman Josh Gottheimer joined with local educators, school administrators, education advocates, and local leaders Thursday at Bergenfield High School to call on House and Senate leadership to extend federally-provided school breakfast and lunch for all students in the upcoming government budget vote.
Taking this action will help ensure that no student goes through their school day without the meals they need to succeed. Nationwide, the extension of this critical program would help feed an estimated 10 million students in need.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Congress gave the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) authority to grant waivers to provide school breakfast and lunch for all nationwide. Additionally, Congress extended school meals for all in the Keep Kids Fed Act through Summer 2022. Now, with the expiration of the Keep Kids Fed Act as the 2022-2023 school year begins, millions of children have now lost access to school provided meals.
Under the current system, in New Jersey, if a school district has fewer than five percent of students below the federal threshold, they are not required to participate in school provided lunch programs. If the school district has more than 20 percent of their students under the federal threshold, then they are required to provide both lunch and breakfast. However, under the current red-tape-laced bureaucratic system, there are many kids on the cusp of the federal threshold who would still go hungry in school. Additionally, if a school district does hit the federal threshold of students to have the ability to offer school provided meals, then families of four with less than $51,338 in annual household income are eligible for free and reduced school meals. But, the child of a family of four making $52,000 annually would not be eligible to receive school provided meals.
Nationwide, the administrative costs of analyzing these calculations and processing can cost school districts up to $100,000 a year — more than a billion dollars nationwide.
Studies show that three out of five school teachers say that students regularly come to school hungry. Hunger in the classroom leads to a decreased ability to focus, decreased physical activity, stomach aches, headaches, depression, and anxiety.
“I’m here today to make sure that no child in New Jersey ever has to sit in a classroom, hungry, focused on how they might get their next meal, not on the textbook in front of them. In our upcoming government budget vote, it’s critical that we reinstate key parts of the Keeping Kids Fed Act that provided universal breakfast and lunch to millions of children in qualifying schools,” said Congressman Josh Gottheimer (NJ-5). “We cannot continue to play these ridiculous and complicated games with the health and futures of our children. We’re wasting time and money trying to figure out which school district qualifies, and which students are eligible — all while knowing that there are children who need to be fed that aren’t being fed. These kids are suffering because of endless red tape.”
“I don’t think we should be using arbitrary statistics when it comes to the health and nutrition of our children. I don’t care if it’s one or 100 kids in a school who are eligible for free school lunches — the school should provide them. These rules are nonsensical,” Gottheimer said.
Gottheimer was joined by Bergen County Education Association President Sue McBride, Bergenfield Superintendent Dr. Christopher Tully, Bergenfield Mayor Arvin Amatorio, Bergenfield High School Assistant Principal Robert Ragasa, Bergenfield High School Principal James Fasano, Bergenfield Education Association President Anthony Rapetti, Bergenfield School Board President Dr. Joseph Amara, and local educators.
Last December, while fighting to make sure students in North Jersey are fed, Gottheimer urged every school district in North Jersey to utilize the National School Lunch Program and School Breakfast Program, or provide their reasoning for not participating and their plan to meet the nutritional needs of their students.