Fresh off a weekend that emphasized a fractured party, Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin shifted the focus Monday to an issue he plans to make a cornerstone during his time in leadership.
“To try to bring attention to the needs of the hungry and to eliminate it,” Coughlin announced.
During a tour of the Community Food Bank of New Jersey in Hillside, Coughlin unveiled a series of anti-hunger bills aimed at helping over a million residents who are considered food insecure — meaning that despite best efforts, they’re unable to provide enough healthy food for themselves or their families.
“We’re going to try to move forward with some bills that will do some simple things in terms of making everyone know where they can go to get assistance by providing a requirement to do a link to those things,” said Coughlin.
More specifically, an anti-hunger link posted on all state government websites that lists the state’s food programs including shelters, pantries and soup kitchens. Two separate bills will address food insecurity for college students and reimburse school districts purchasing Jersey-grown produce for the cafeteria.
“The new ALICE report from the United Way of Northern New Jersey is coming out at the end of October and it will show that we’ve actually increased our inequality, especially for working poor, up to 41 percent of people in our state and three-quarters are working and still unable to get by, but also relying on places like the Community Food Bank,” said Renee Wolf Koubiadis, executive director of the Anti-Poverty Network of New Jersey.
New Jersey has almost a thousand food pantries and other community partners throughout the state. The Food Bank distributes enough food for 47 million meals a year, or about 56 million pounds of food. Thousands of volunteers work to serve the approximately 1 in 8 New Jerseyans who need assistance.
Coughlin says the bills are still being drafted, but he plans to enact the Food Desert Elimination Act to address so called food deserts — or places where there’s no access to healthy foods and transportation within a mile. Retaining larger chain supermarkets in those areas has proven tough.
“What we want to do is provide an incentive for those businesses, and we recognize that there are challenges for them to overcome,” said Coughlin.
The bills are a work in progress. Coughlin says you can expect to see them introduced in the coming months.
Chasing the Dream: Poverty and Opportunity in America is a multiplatform public media initiative that provides a deeper understanding of the impact of poverty on American society. Major funding for this initiative is provided by the JPB Foundation. Additional funding is provided by Ford Foundation.