WASHINGTON, May 10, 2022 — More than 285,000 households in New Jersey did not have reliable access to affordable, nutritious food at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a new report, Hunger and Its Solutions in New Jersey: Landscape Analysis of Current Initiatives, Recommended Action, and Emerging Opportunities for Further Investment, released today by the Food Research & Action Center (FRAC) with support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF). The pandemic has exacerbated longstanding inequities in New Jersey. Community disinvestment and systems of oppression have resulted in disproportionate burdens of food insecurity along geographic lines and by race and ethnicity, with Black and Latino households particularly hit hard. For example, an analysis of the Census Household Pulse Survey shows that, in 2021, 14 percent of Black households and 18 percent of Latino households in New Jersey indicated that they sometimes or often did not have enough to eat, compared to 5 percent of white households.
Hunger and Its Solutions in New Jersey highlights how diverse community organizations pivoted to diligently address hunger during the pandemic, providing food and connections to services and support; and state agencies fully maximized federal waivers, shifting services and expanding benefits to help mitigate food insecurity. Flexibilities that these waivers offered were vital to ensure programs could continue to provide benefits and serve meals to New Jersey households while keeping families and providers safe through social distancing.
“Leadership and staff at these organizations and State and local agencies worked tirelessly throughout COVID-19 to help New Jerseyans,” said Luis Guardia, president of FRAC. “Despite these heroic efforts, more must be done to meet unacceptable levels of poverty and hunger across the state.”
The report details specific recommendations that will enable state and local governments, schools, child care providers, community-based and faith-based organizations, emergency food providers, and others, to help mitigate hunger by:
- Expanding outreach to community members on food resources and federal nutrition programs available, and enhancing coordination between food system stakeholders, like residents, state agencies, nutrition program operators, and farmers. This includes replicating and supporting the development of community service hubs offering wholistic, wraparound services to New Jersey residents.
- Investing in and/or developing food-focused enterprises to support local food access in federal nutrition program meal service and other public purchasing. This includes fostering local small food businesses’ startup and sustainability in underserved communities.
- Building infrastructure and capacity needed to make the most of existing and emerging policy and program opportunities. This includes leveraging American Rescue Plan Act funding and new funding streams to invest in technology systems to streamline access to food and federal nutrition programs, for example, through multi-benefit portals.
This report is based on an assessment conducted by FRAC that engaged more than 150 stakeholders through key informant meetings, focus groups with residents with lived expertise, and a series of advisory workgroup convenings about existing exemplary food security initiatives in New Jersey and about what additional policies, systems changes, cross-sector outreach, and programmatic initiatives are needed to effectively address hunger across the state.more must be done to meet unacceptable levels of poverty and hunger across the state.”The report suggests stakeholders collectively implement creative solutions that help reduce food insecurity, support good nutrition, and promote health equity. Reasonable enhancements to the federal nutrition programs have the potential to support these goals while also infusing millions of dollars into New Jersey’s local economies each year. “Leveraging federal nutrition programs is a key strategy to help reduce and prevent food insecurity effectively and equitably,” added Guardia. “Yet
This report also serves as the foundation for the planning and piloting of a food insecurity initiative sponsored by RWJF. The initiative will include significant investments toward efforts that help reduce food insecurity and improve food systems in New Jersey.
“Over the years, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has invested in New Jersey healthy food-related developments, and this report provides us a more nuanced understanding of the complex web of food system challenges and opportunities for improvement,” said RWJF Senior Program Officer Marco Navarro. “The Food Research & Action Center’s New Jersey-specific report will inform our Foundation’s investments and is a unique resource for all of us concerned about increased food insecurity because of what that means for the health, well-being, and life chances of our fellow residents.”
FRAC’s Hunger and Its Solutions in New Jersey: A Brief on the Landscape of the Federal Nutrition Programs report provides further information on the landscape of federal nutrition programs in New Jersey, including program basics, who administers the program, program participation, and COVID-19-related changes.
About Food Research & Action Center
The Food Research & Action Center improves the nutrition, health, and well-being of people struggling against poverty-related hunger in the United States through advocacy, partnerships, and by advancing bold and equitable policy solutions. To learn more, visit FRAC.org and follow us on Twitter and on Facebook.