September is Hunger Action Month: Let’s Make it Easier for People to Get Food Aid!

A guest article from Adele LaTourette, Director of Hunger Free New Jersey

During the pandemic, there has been heightened awareness about hunger, leading the federal government to loosen federal nutrition program rules and boost benefits, as more community leaders worked together to deliver food to their needy residents.  

But, as emergency food providers know, hunger does not happen only during a public health crisis. For far too many New Jersey children, families, veterans, older adults and others, food insecurity is never far away.

During the pandemic, we made it easier for people to get help. Why shouldn’t this be the “new normal?” The short answer: It should.

When government removes red tape and communities work together to deliver food aid to residents, more people receive the assistance they need. It’s that simple.

Adele LaTourette, Director of Hunger Free New Jersey, addresses a crowd about hunger relief.
Adele LaTourette, Director of Hunger Free New Jersey, addresses a crowd.

Consider last summer: New Jersey communities fed a record number of children. In 2020, schools, local government and community organizations nearly tripled the number of free meals served to children through federal summer nutrition programs, reaching twice as many children as the year before.

We also saw a 15 percent boost in SNAP benefits that expanded food purchasing power for many families and a growing number of households receiving this critical aid. The benefit increase is set to expire on Sept. 30, threatening a “food cliff” for many families.

During the health crisis, thousands of New Jersey families have also benefited from Pandemic EBT, which provided funds directly to families to buy food when their children were attending school either virtually or in a “hybrid” learning situation. This assistance was extended through summer 2021. Although families have yet to receive the summer P-EBT benefits, they will likely receive them sometime this fall.

All this adds up to a much stronger food safety net than has ever existed before. We know that emergency food providers struggle to meet the demand even during “normal” times. That’s why it is time to make these pandemic-related investments a permanent part of our federal nutrition programs.

This includes:

  • Making the SNAP benefit boost permanent and adopting a more realistic way to calculate that benefit,
  • Expanding the number of schools that can participate in the Community Eligibility Provision, which allows schools to feed all children for free,
  • Expanding the number of low-income students who are directly certified for free school meals through other programs like Medicaid,
  • Allowing schools, local government agencies and nonprofits to seamlessly feed children year-round, without having to switch from one child nutrition program to another,
  • Providing EBT benefits to eligible children when schools are closed,
  • Allowing all summer meal sites to serve a third meal,
  • Funding comprehensive WIC outreach and coordination, including establishing a WIC community partners outreach program.

Learn more and connect with us at hungerfreenj.org. We are also working with our national partner, the Food Research & Action Center (FRAC), and others to advocate for these important changes. FRAC provides a platform where you and your networks can easily send messages to our elected officials. Visit frac.org/action and help make it easier for people to get the food aid they need.

In addition, we look forward to co-hosting a Hunger Action Day event at TASK on Friday, September 17. TASK has been an invaluable partner in addressing and alleviating food insecurity in Mercer County and throughout New Jersey, serving as an anchor organization to bring soup kitchens and community organizations together throughout the state in the midst of the pandemic to help fight the hunger crisis. On September 17, where efforts across the country are focused on enhancing hunger-fighting impact, we will welcome a number of speakers and thought leaders in the fight against food insecurity, to address the challenges facing New Jersey residents. By bringing awareness and education to this issue, it’s our collective hope that you will feel empowered to join us in advocating for a hunger-free future.

Adele LaTourette is the director of Hunger Free New Jersey, a statewide advocacy organization that works to ensure all New Jersey residsents have healthy food to eat, every single day.