What a difference a year makes.

The number of people without enough food in New Jersey spiked by 89% between a one-week period in October 2021 and one-week period in October 2022, according to a report released by the nonprofit Hunger Free America.

Based on an analysis of federal data, the report found that over a year's time, the number of food insecure individuals in the Garden State jumped from around 500,000 to more than 942,000.

"It's people skipping meals, it's parents going without food to feed their children," said Joel Berg, CEO of Hunger Free America. "Sometimes it's people getting obese because all they can afford is less healthy food that is more affordable than the healthy food."

Berg noted that people can't pay less in rent, insurance or car payments, so proper meals may be moved toward the bottom of the priority list.

The 27-page report attributes the surge in food insecurity to the expiration of the expanded Child Tax Credit and universal school meals. Both perks had been enacted in the face of the coronavirus pandemic.

"When you combine that with inflation, you really have a triple whammy affecting hard working families in New Jersey, most of whom just don't earn enough money in low-wage jobs to feed their families," Berg said.

Earlier this year, New Jersey created a new child tax credit of up to $500 per year for certain families, per child, with payments beginning in 2024.

Across New Jersey, the report finds, 8.5% of residents, including nearly 204,000 children, lived in food insecure households from 2019 to 2021.

In its report, Hunger Free America put forth a number of federal policy recommendations, including the expansion of eligibility for free school meals, re-funding the Child Tax Credit for struggling families, and enactment of the Hope Act of 2021, which establishes pilot projects to improve economic security for lower-income individuals.

Dino Flammia is a reporter for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach him at dino.flammia@townsquaremedia.com

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