July 13, 2009: As economy slumps, summer feeding programs see increased need

New Jersey’s unemployment rate of 8.8 percent is still better than the national average, but in many low-income communities job losses have surged to over 13 percent. As a result, cities such as New Brunswick, Elizabeth and Newark are gearing up to feed thousands of hungry kids this summer through networks of food banks and feeding sites in summer schools and at community organizations.

The economic crisis is partly responsible for the increased need. But some communities also made a concerted effort to encourage families to complete applications for food programs.

In the 2008-2009 school year, the number of students receiving free and reduced-price lunches grew by 11 percent to more than 341,000. In Newark alone, where 80 percent of students receive subsidized meals, the school district began serving over 7,000 free meals a day at its more than 30 summer school sites around the city. Unlike the school year lunch program, there is no income verification requirement for kids through the summer feeding service.

Funding for hungry kids is made available through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Summer Food Service Program, which reimburses nonprofit organizations up to $2.75 for each lunch and $1.57 per breakfast. The service not only provides nutritious meals to needy children, but helps families stretch their food-buying dollar.

New Jersey Snapshots notes that 11.6 percent of children in the state live in poverty. Free and reduced-price lunches help kids during the school year, but many families do not know that help is also available in the summer months. For more information on summer feeding programs call New Jersey’s Department of Agriculture at 609-292-3976.

The statistics cited above are among many that can be found in The NJPP publication, New Jersey Snapshots 2009.  Every page is a table comparing New Jersey to every other state in an important category, from cost of living to crime rates to taxes.  This expanded edition of Snapshots is a go-to book that provides the numbers you need to promote public policy discussions with family, friends and colleagues.  It’s $15 and shipping is free.