NEW JERSEY – Governor Phil Murphy Wednesday joined members of his Administration, government officials, and advocates to highlight ongoing efforts to address food insecurity on behalf of families throughout New Jersey as part of the Governor’s commitment to making life more affordable for residents.
Efforts to strengthen food security include the enactment of legislation, inclusion of funding in the state budget, and the creation of a first-in-the-nation Office of the Food Security Advocate. From its outset, the Murphy Administration has secured historic increases in funding for New Jersey food banks, including an additional $65 million in Fiscal Year 2023 (FY2023).
A total of $85 million was dedicated in the FY2023 budget to support the critical work of New Jersey’s six largest food banks.
“The holiday season is a poignant reminder of the many New Jersey families struggling to put food on the table every day,” Murphy said. “As my Administration continues to pursue ways in which we can make life more affordable on behalf of New Jersey families, combating food insecurity will remain a critical part of those efforts. Alongside dedicated community and legislative partners, including food security champion Speaker Craig J. Coughlin, my Administration remains committed to working to strengthen food security to ensure that no one in our state goes hungry.”
The New Jersey Department of Agriculture oversees the distribution of funding and provides support to food banks, in addition to administering various food and nutrition programs on behalf of residents.
When COVID-19 exacerbated food insecurity throughout the state, additional assistance was provided to struggling families and the organizations supporting them.
Since the start of the pandemic, the New Jersey Department of Human Services (DHS) has issued nearly $1.3 billion through the Pandemic Electronic Benefits Transfer (P-EBT) program, which helps families purchase food for their children who are eligible for free or reduced price meals at school but missed meal(s) due to a COVID-19-related absence. These benefits are also available to families with children under the age of 6 who are eligible for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and attend child care but miss in-person care due to COVID-19.
DHS has also distributed nearly $2 billion in additional monthly SNAP payments to help low-income families afford food and other essentials. New Jersey is the first state to set a SNAP minimum benefit of $50, which required an $18 million investment in State funds.
This year, DHS also forgave debt for certain families previously enrolled in public benefit programs, like SNAP, as consistent with federal rules. The intent of the initiative was to help ease the financial burden this debt posed for thousands of families and allow them to achieve greater economic stability.
Additional pandemic-related assistance includes the New Jersey Economic Development Authority’s (NJEDA) Sustain and Serve NJ program – which gives non-profits funding to purchase meals from restaurants recovering from the impacts of the pandemic in order to distribute those meals to people in their communities for free – thereby supporting both local businesses and residents in need of food assistance. So far, over 3.7 million meals have been purchased from over 440 different restaurants throughout the state.
The NJEDA has also created a Food Security Planning Grant Program to provide up to $125,000 to local governments to create plans to transform abandoned/vacant properties in one of New Jersey’s 50 food deserts into a way to improve food security, such as through a new grocery store, urban agriculture, or some other project. Applications for this program have been extended to December 20, 2022.
In partnership with the Legislature, the Governor has signed a number of bills to help combat food insecurity. Two bills signed in September 2022 will require schools to provide free breakfasts and lunches to students from working-class, middle-income families and require school food authorities to help make parents aware of existing and expanded school meal programs through public education campaigns.
The Governor also signed a comprehensive legislative package into law in September 2021 to expand access to the New Jersey Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), raise awareness about SNAP benefits, bolster school meal programs, and establish the Office of the Food Insecurity Advocate. The ongoing mission of this office is to coordinate the administration of New Jersey’s food insecurity programs, advocate for individuals facing food insecurity, and develop new policy initiatives to help the State combat hunger and facilitate greater access to food relief programs.
“New Jersey’s food banks are so essential in providing meals and critical support to food insecure residents in their time of need,” said New Jersey Department of Agriculture Secretary Douglas Fisher. “This funding will play a significant role to ensure emergency feeding organizations have the resources they need. In addition, in the agreements signed with our food banks, they will be providing thousands of additional pounds of fresh fruits and vegetables secured from our local New Jersey farmers.”
“A comprehensive approach is critical to making food security a reality. On behalf of New Jersey’s food banks and our local networks, I’m proud of the innovative work the State has done for all residents,” said Carlos Rodriguez, President & CEO of the Community FoodBank of New Jersey. “Governor Murphy, Speaker Coughlin, and Senate President Scutari are visionary leaders in the fight against hunger, and our partnership with them is more important now than ever before as families navigate a recovery fraught with challenges from the continuing effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.”