More than 919,000 New Jersey residents struggle with a lack of access to affordable, healthy food, and last week the Assembly passed a number of bills aimed at tackling the issue from several angles — food deserts in poor areas, hunger on college campuses, food waste and more.
Each bill still requires Senate approval and a signature from Gov. Phil Murphy, but they represent a big, bipartisan swing at a growing issue.
“One in nine residents in the state is food insecure and, in New Jersey, 41 cities can be classified as ‘food deserts,’” said Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin, D-Middlesex, who sponsored some of the bills. “To fight hunger effectively, we must address all possible sources of food insecurities for New Jersey families.”
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All four counties in The Press of Atlantic City’s coverage area — Atlantic, Cape May, Cumberland and Ocean — have some of the highest rates in the state of children who lack access to healthy and nutritious foods, both in quality and quantity, according to the Feeding America organization.
One bill, the Food Desert Elimination Act, would push the New Jersey Economic Development Authority to designate many areas as food deserts — towns and cities with sparse access to fresh food — and then offer tax credit incentives to get supermarkets to open locations there.
The Hunger-Free Campus Act would require the state’s secretary of higher education to parcel out $1 million among designated schools to, among other goals, open food pantries on campus and allow students to use SNAP benefits at campus stores.
One act would establish a pilot program to establish weekly markets in three identified food deserts that would sell produce at reduced prices and accept SNAP benefits. Markets would be required to donate surplus produce.
And another act would require the Department of Human Services to develop an online portal to facilitate collaboration and efficiency in use of surplus food among retailers, nonprofits and gleaners, who collect excess food from various sources.