A New Jersey congressman is leading the charge to extend a federally provided school meal program for students in the Garden State and across the nation.

During a visit to Bergenfield High School on Thursday, U.S. Rep. Josh Gottheimer, D-N.J. 5th District, said “it’s critical that we reinstate key parts of the Keeping Kids Fed Act that provided breakfast and lunch.”

During the pandemic, Congress gave the U.S. Department of Agriculture authority to grant waivers to provide school breakfast and lunch for all kids nationwide. But now, with the expiration of the Keep Kids Fed Act as the 2022-2023 school year begins, millions of children in Jersey and all over the country have lost access to school-provided meals.

Gottheimer said keeping vital parts of Keeping Kids Fed needs to be a top priority during the upcoming government budget vote.

Schoolboy holding plate of lunch in school cafeteria smiling at camera
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Why school lunch is important

“It will feed our children, avoid the massive administrative costs of the old program and end the stigma around the school lunch program that has existed for far too long,” he said.

He stressed it’s vitally important to make sure “no child in New Jersey ever has to sit in a classroom hungry, focused on how they might get their next meal, not on the textbook in front of them.”

He pointed out that all too often kids that are hungry don’t do well in school, because there is a “decreased ability to focus, decreased physical activity, stomach aches, headaches, depression and anxiety.”

“You can’t propel a rocket without fuel and the same goes for a growing student,” he said. “They’re rockets ready to take off for a successful life and career but they won’t reach their dreams without the fuel they need every single day.”

Congressman says there's too much red tape

Under the current system in New Jersey, if a school district has fewer than five percent of students below the federal threshold, they are not required to participate in school-provided lunch programs.

If the district has more than 20% of their students under the federal threshold, then they are required to provide both lunch and breakfast. However, under the current red-tape-laced bureaucratic system, there are many kids on the cusp of the federal threshold who would still go hungry in school.

Gottheimer said “we cannot continue to play these ridiculous and complicated games with the health and futures of our children. We’re wasting time and money trying to figure out which school district qualifies, and which students are eligible, all while knowing that there are children who need to be fed that aren’t being fed. These kids are suffering because of bureaucracy.”

David Matthau is a reporter for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach him at david.matthau@townsquaremedia.com

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