Rep. Josh Gottheimer is urging school superintendents in the 5th Congressional District to make sure they use available federal meal program funds to combat hunger among North Jersey school children.
Gottheimer, who has long made it a priority to make sure his 5th District constituents avail themselves of available federal funds and grant monies, is setting his sights on making sure schools in his district make full use of the National School Lunch Program and School Breakfast Program.
In a letter to school superintendents in his North Jersey district, Gottheimer asked them to respond with how their districts are utilizing the federal National School Lunch Program and School Breakfast Program, or to explain their reason for not participating and their alternative plan to meet school children’s nutritional needs.
‘Take Advantage of These Programs’
“We cannot let a single child go hungry. It’s impossible for a child to succeed in school if he or she is hungry. When the result would be scores of students starting their day with a sharper mind, stronger body, and better chance of a successful school day, the excuse that providing these meals is too bureaucratically burdensome just doesn’t add up,” Gottheimer said.
“As a strong proponent of clawing back federal funds to our communities, I believe that school districts must take advantage of these programs to help feed our children.”
Offered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the National School Lunch Program is a federally assisted meal program operating in public and nonprofit private schools and residential childcare institutions. The program provides low- or no-cost lunches to children each school day.
Every Student Eligible Due to COVID
The USDA announced in April 2021 that, due to the coronavirus pandemic, all students would be eligible for universal free lunch programs through the National School Lunch Program, regardless of income level, through June 2022.
Gottheimer said that for families to access the State of New Jersey’s $375 summer Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer, their schools must participate in the National School Lunch Program. Therefore, he said it is critical that all school districts participate in the program.
Schools that meet the requirements can participate in the USDA’s free School Breakfast Program as well.
More Than 500K Eligible New Jersey Students
The congressman said in his letter that more than 500,000 students in New Jersey typically are eligible for free and reduced-price meals.
“Countless studies have shown that children who don’t start with breakfast are at a massive disadvantage for succeeding in school,” he wrote in his letter to school superintendents.
Additionally, Gottheimer wrote that school districts in New Jersey are required to participate in the NSLP or offer a lunch program that meets USDA standards if 5% or more of their students meet the eligibility requirements. If 20% or more of the students are eligible for free lunch, a district must also participate in the free School Breakfast Program. Public school districts with fewer than 5% of students eligible are not required to participate in the programs.
Gottheimer: Opting Out Affects All Students
“Schools that opted out of the program this year or last are now losing federal investments for expanded access to free school lunches for all students — not only those from low-income families,” Gottheimer wrote.
“Additionally, the USDA has extended its Seamless Summer Option (SSO) through the 2021-2022 school year. This program allows schools to receive full federal reimbursement for all meals served; in other words, our local community will not have to pay one cent for this program.”
Schools that choose to utilize these programs will receive higher-than-normal meal reimbursements for every meal they serve, which will allow them to serve healthy meals while managing increased costs associated with pandemic-related operational and supply chain challenges, he said.
“I believe that school districts must take advantage of these programs and avoid leaving federal tax dollars that New Jersey residents have already paid on the table,” Gottheimer added.
The lawmaker wrote that he plans to communicate directly with families in communities where school leaders chose to opt out of federal meal programs “to ensure our schools are providing meals to children in need.”