State political officials, particularly Democrats, are requesting Congress to permanently extend the pandemic-era free school lunch program to all K-12 kids in New Jersey.
On Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Teresa Ruiz, D-Essex, presented a Senate Education Committee resolution that “urges” Congress to make the free meals program permanent regardless of a student’s income.
If Congress doesn’t act, should New Jersey provide free school lunches to all students?
Only households with incomes 130% below the poverty level receive free meals from the government.
Lisa Pitz of Hunger Free New Jersey, a nonprofit that advocates for universal free meals, said New Jersey would have to pay for individuals who don’t satisfy federal standards if it adopts the policy.
A party spokesperson said Thursday’s resolution has Republican lawmakers’ backing, but he did not say if they would cover school lunches with state taxpayer cash. Even while they want free lunches for New Jersey’s 1.28 million children, Democrats have failed to propose a law.
“Budget discussions are always needed to get 100% universal. Ruiz advised, “Let’s cover the neediest families first before we take a jump.”
She claimed the state is “inching” toward universal free lunches by implementing laws since 2020 to remove barriers and include more families.
The National Center for Education Statistics reported that 37.6% of New Jersey public school children received free or reduced-price meals in 2018-19, before the outbreak.
State participation varies greatly. Georgia had 60.8% of pupils receiving free lunches, New York 53.9%, and New Mexico 72.3%.
According to the New Jersey Department of Agriculture, 42% of 1.2 million students receive free or reduced meals.
Ruiz’s resolution claimed that doesn’t cover all needy youngsters. Lack of understanding and access prevented 150,000 New Jersey children from receiving free meals, it stated.
Ruiz said she wants to alter federal reimbursement to states for the cost of living.
Should Students Get Free Meals?
Conservative and progressive policy experts disagree on whether a tax-funded universal free lunch program is justified.
Universal free meals will be funded by taxing $300,000-plus earners in Colorado, where only 40% of pupils used the national school lunch program in 2018-19. After a November general election ballot proposition passed the law, voters liked it.
Max Eden, a conservative think-tank fellow, called this an irresponsible public expenditure.
“It’s obviously not a progressive investment of public money if we define progressive as transfer to needy people,” he remarked. He called investing 100% of resources into free lunches “a give-away to a group that has no need,” excluding families at the income line.
“In one of the nation’s wealthiest states, it’s a disgrace that any child should go to school hungry, regardless of income,” said Peter Chen from New Jersey Policy Perspective, a progressive think-tank that promotes universal free lunches.
Chen said universal programs eliminate the paperwork required for children to receive free meals, which has discouraged enrolment.
Chen and Eden stated free lunches make kids like them.
After the school district tried free meals during the epidemic, many Warren Township parents were unsatisfied with the quality. Chen stated “high-quality meals that pupils truly want to eat” should be funded.
“It’s not like if you cover everyone, you’re going to be squandering food or funds,” Ruiz added, acknowledging wastage.
“It would be amazing if someone made an in-depth assessment of how much food gets thrown out at school facilities and how many children may not get those meals.”
Eden said universal free meals may “fundamentally impact school culture” by distinguishing pupils whose parents pack brown-bag lunches. He predicted that fewer pupils would bring lunch from home.
Advocates like Chen claimed free lunches expose youngsters to peer stigma and ridicule. Eden remarked that if lunches are free, kids will bully those who do things differently. Brown-bagged lunches and their parents might also be stigmatized.
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Eden said this could fund tutoring, after-school programs, or mental health. Eden stated, “There is a finite amount of public money that can be redistributed” to treat the pandemic’s long-term effects.
“I really believe that having access to free breakfast and lunch is a positive thing for the academic achievements of that child and the school,” said Ruiz.