More Free School Meals Are Coming to This State

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The New jersey state flag flying in front of a sunny sky.

Image source: Getty Images

That’s good news for cash-strapped families. 


Key points

  • Many families are struggling to make ends meet due to inflation.
  • One state is taking steps to ensure that children don’t have to go hungry.
  • New Jersey’s Working Class Families’ Anti-Hunger Act expands access to free school meals for children in the Garden State.

Many families with children were grappling with food insecurity issues before inflation started to rear its ugly head. But over the past year, the cost of food has soared, and now, many parents are having a difficult time feeding their families.

Making matters worse is the absence of the boosted Child Tax Credit. Last year, the maximum value of the credit rose from $2,000 to $3,000 for children aged 6 to 17 and $3,600 for children under age 6. Just as importantly, half of the boosted credit was paid to parents in monthly installments that began in July and lasted through December. That meant parents saw extra money hit their bank accounts at the same time inflation began to rise. 

But lawmakers didn’t manage to keep the expanded Child Tax Credit in place for 2022. And so now, a lot of families are finding it difficult to put food on the table.

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One state is taking steps to try to address that issue by expanding its free school meal program. And if others follow suit, it could be a lifeline for parents and children all over the country.

More free meals are coming to the Garden State

New Jersey residents have long struggled with sky-high living costs (particularly with regard to housing), but many lower-income families can’t leave the Garden State because they’re tethered to family, a community, or a job. Now, Governor Phil Murphy is taking steps to make sure that school-aged children won’t show up to their classes hungry.

On Sept. 9, Murphy signed the Working Class Families’ Anti-Hunger Act into law, and it will expand the state’s free school lunch and breakfast program to an estimated 26,000 more students. Prior to the expansion, families at 185% of the federal poverty level qualified for free school meals. This change expands eligibility to those at 200% of the federal poverty level.

This means a family of three earning $46,060 will now be eligible for free school meals in New Jersey. Previously, that threshold sat at $42,606. 

The timing couldn’t be better

During the initial phase of the pandemic, students of all income levels were entitled to free lunch and breakfast in New Jersey as a result of stimulus funding. But that benefit went away to start off the 2022-2023 school year, leaving only those with a true financial need eligible for free school meals.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Although New Jersey is an expensive place to live, its proximity to New York City means it’s home to many high earners, and so a lot of children who were eligible for free meals through the end of the 2021-2022 school year didn’t actually need that aid. 

But the fact that free meals are being made available to moderate earners is a good thing. In New Jersey, an income of $46,060 for a family of three is barely enough to make ends meet. Opening up free school meals for children in that situation is definitely justifiable.

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