Assembly panel clears slate of bills to combat hunger in NJ

While many of us overindulge this time of year, many more — about a million more in New Jersey — go without. About 13 percent of our residents don’t have access to enough food, and yet food waste is at an all time high in the state. Michael Hill reports on a package of bills moving through Trenton aimed at ending food insecurity, for those still chasing the dream.

Susan Biegen and her three children knew hunger after a divorce, job losses and downsizing.

“I was able to find a part time job in a large organization, but was able to get assistance with childcare because I was only working 25 hours a week. It wasn’t enough to pay my rent, it wasn’t enough to put food on the table,” Beigen said.

Anti-hunger advocates and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin count Biegen among the Garden State’s growing and grim statistics. Coughlin says about one in eight, or 266,000 people, are affected by food insecurity.

Biegen came to Trenton to testify at the Assembly Human Services Committee for a series of bills to fight hunger. Among them, one would permit supermarkets and grocery stores to sell alcoholic beverages for off-premises consumption to entice them to build in food deserts. Another would give grants to battle food insecurity on public college campuses. Another would urge large food retailers to cut waste.

“This is such a step forward for the state of New Jersey to really tackle this problem more, really, literally head on,” said Assemblywoman Joann Downey, who chairs the committee.

“Thursday, exactly, was Thanksgiving, but today is the day we are really thankful for an emergency food network and across food banks and New Jersey,” said Carlos Rodriguez, president and CEO of the Community Food Bank.

“Hunger exists from one end of this state to the next. There is not one county that is exempt from the issue of hunger,” said Hunger Free New Jersey Director Adele LaTourette.

CUMAC in downtown Paterson said the proof is in the thousands of New Jerseyans who come here every month from 9 counties, including the busload of senior citizens recently from Livingston.

“Effectively ending hunger has nothing to do with giving people food. Feeding people is about giving people food. But ending hunger, addressing hunger effectively, is about wrapping service around the families that are coming to us for help,” Dinglasan said.

Fourteen anti-hunger bills on the table. The assembly speaker says it’s not about the price tag — it’s about something else.

“Many of the bills are coordination of efforts, because as I said, there are thousands and thousands of people for a very long time have toiled in the vineyards and stuck up for people who are food insecure. This will bring some organization to that,” said Coughlin.

Coughlin was the first to testify for the bills in a room full of advocates encouraging lawmakers in this high-income state to feed the least of its citizens. The committee released all 14 bills, and Coughlin said he anticipates the full assembly approving the bills in mid-December.

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.

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