Public colleges and universities across the Garden State are being encouraged to apply for grant money to address food insecurity issues their own students may be facing.

Assemblyman Benjie Wimberly, D-Passaic, the prime sponsor of the Hunger Free Campus Act, said an estimated one-third of college students are food insecure, which means they may not be able to afford a nutritious meal every day.

“Unfortunately a poor diet is just as bad as not eating sometimes, so if you’re eating a bunch of fast food and fried food and sugary food, that’s a terrible thing for your diet," Wimberly said.

He said the grant program will allocate funds to help students get nutritious food, not junk food.

“This will address you being able to get a salad, to get a grilled chicken or soup or whatever it may be that you take for granted everybody has, but they can’t afford," Wimberly said.

He said the Hunger Free Campus Act aims to help students get supplies at on-campus food pantries.

Wimberly said not all students live in dorms on-campus, “so you have students that are full-time students but they’re commuting, and they’re there during the day and they need a meal — so now these students will be eligible to get a meal.”

The Hunger Free Campus Act requires Zakiya Smith Ellis, the secretary of Higher Education, to designate schools to receive grant funding.

In order for schools a school to get that designation, the act specifies it must establish a hunger task force, designate a staff member responsible for assisting students with enrollment in the New Jersey Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, provide options for students to utilize SNAP benefits at campus stores, establish a food pantry on campus or enable students to get food through a separate, stigma-free arrangement. A school must develop a “Swipe Out Hunger” student meal credit sharing program, or designate a certain amount of funds for free meal vouchers for low-income students.

"I think it’s something that is taken for granted, that everybody has money to have a healthy meal and that’s just not the case — even for college students," Wimberly said.

Legislation passed and signed into law last spring allocates $1 million for the Hunger Free Campus Act.

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