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Wednesday, June 19, 2024

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Report: NJ Sees Nation’s Steepest Drop in Children Receiving After-school Suppers

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By Press Release

TRENTON – New Jersey is heading in the wrong direction when it comes to serving after-school suppers to children who may be going home to an empty dinner table, and that was before the pandemic hit, per a release.
According to a new Food Research & Action Center report, New Jersey saw the steepest drop in the nation in the number of children receiving after-school suppers, declining a concerning 21%. Nebraska had the next highest drop, at 12%. These were the only two states to see a decrease of more than 10% in this federally-funded child nutrition program, according to After-school Suppers: A Snapshot in Participation. 
“This is alarming,” stated Adele LaTourette, director, Hunger Free New Jersey. “This substantial decrease means that fewer needy New Jersey children were receiving after-school suppers even before the pandemic.”
Although the USDA has relaxed rules to make it easier for schools, local government and community organizations to serve after-school snacks and suppers during the pandemic, anecdotal evidence suggests that even fewer of these meals are being provided since so many after-school programs are closed or operating remotely, LaTourette stated.
“It is very likely that we are reaching even fewer children than documented in this report,” LaTourette stated, “and this is during a time when more and more families are struggling to put food on the table.”
In October 2019, New Jersey reached less than 5% of low-income children who receive free and low-cost school lunch – or about 19,000 children on an average day in October 2019. FRAC sets a benchmark for serving supper to at least 15% of these students.
If New Jersey had met that goal, communities could have collected an additional $2.6 million in federal reimbursements, in October 2019 alone, and fed an additional 40,000 children, the report found. When states fail to meet the benchmark, they miss out on federal funding and children are more likely to face hunger.
Nationally, the number of children served after-school nutrition rose, reaching more than 1.4 million low-income children on an average day in October 2019. Supper participation increased by nearly 87,000 a day from the year before.
The report ranks all 50 states and the District of Columbia on participation in after-school suppers and snacks. New Jersey ranked 21st for supper service, in 2019, down from, 17th in 2018.
After-school nutrition programs play a key role in reducing hunger and supporting quality after-school enrichment programs, research shows.
LaTourette stated the New Jersey Department of Agriculture, which administers the program on the state level, should take steps to understand the pre-pandemic decline, while also stepping up efforts to engage more organizations, especially school districts, to serve after-school snacks and suppers during the pandemic.
“Feeding America projects that New Jersey will see a 75% increase in hungry children by the end of 2020, due to the pandemic,” she stated. “It is critical that we maximize use of federal child nutrition programs to make sure that does not happen.”

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