NJ.com- It’s been one of the most indelible images of the coronavirus pandemic: People who suddenly lost their jobs gathering in long lines at food banks to feed their families.
Now, New Jersey food banks will get an infusion of $20 million in federal taxpayer money to help feed residents as the virus continues to wreak havoc on the economy.
State leaders announced Thursday they will distribute $10 million in immediate emergency assistance and another $10 million before December from the federal CARES Act aid to six food banks.
They are Southern Regional, Food Bank of South Jersey, the Community Food Bank of New Jersey, Mercer Street Friends, Fulfill, and Norwescap. The amount of money they get will be based on a “fair share” formula using the number of people each of them feeds, Gov. Phil Murphy’s administration said.
“Today, we’re here to extend a lifeline to our communities’ lifelines,” Murphy said while announcing the funding at the Community FoodBank of New Jersey in Hillside. “Across our state, the demand placed upon food banks has grown tremendously.”
Murphy also touted $390 million in additional federal funding to benefit thousands of hungry families in the Garden State.
Of that, the state Department of Human Services has already delivered $180 million in new benefits to people and families who receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) food assistance.
And now, he said, the human services department and the state Department of Education will begin delivering $208 million in special food assistance benefits to more than 500,000 school children who would have received free or reduced-price school meals during the school year.
“Think about the challenge of having your day’s routine start and end with trying to figure out how to provide food for your family that day,” said state Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin, D-Middlesex, who has sponsored numerous laws in recent years to combat hunger. “How do you ever face the other challenges that each day brings? ... We can’t do enough to help alleviate their challenges.”
Murphy said that “even in good times,” more than 1 in 10 New Jersey families are “food-insecure.” The issue, he said, has gotten worse during the pandemic.
The virus that has claimed the lives of more than 15,400 New Jerseyans has also wreaked havoc on the state’s economy as residents began social distancing and businesses were ordered to shut down. More than 1.3 million Garden State residents have filed for unemployment benefits since mid-March.
Some businesses — including gyms, movie theaters, and the indoor dining sections of restaurants and bars — have yet to reopen as Murphy gradually lifts his lockdown orders.
The nonprofit Feeding America is projecting a 56% increase in New Jersey’s food insecurity rate in the months ahead because of the crisis, said Carlos Rodridguez, president of the Community FoodBank of New Jersey.
That he said is 432,000 residents — a rate higher than the national average and neighboring states.
“So many across our state are struggling with hunger for the first time in their lives,” Rodriguez said.
The Community FoodBank has already provided 25 million meals since the pandemic began, he added.
“But for the grace of God, any of us could be in this situation,” state Senate President Stephen Sweeney, D-Gloucester, said. “You’re seeing people for the first time reaching out.”
The governor also wants the state government to make up those losses by borrowing billions. The state Assembly has passed the plan, but the state Senate has not yet.
Murphy on Wednesday called on the Senate to agree, warning there may be layoffs or more cuts to programs if the state falls short on money.
“I cannot allow politics to deny our state the resources that we need to provide real relief for millions, literally millions of our families,” he said during his latest coronavirus briefing in Trenton.