Gottheimer Urges Schools to Participate in School Breakfast Program

Sep 20, 2017

Funds Allocated for NJ-5 Schools Left Unrequested Currently

Today, Congressman Josh Gottheimer (NJ-5) joined with parents, school administrators, child health advocates, and elementary students to highlight the importance of school provided breakfast and the federal dollars available for NJ-5 school breakfasts that have been left on the table, unused to feed our children. Congressman Gottheimer called upon schools to ensure no child in need goes without the breakfast they need.

“No kid in our district should start their days hungry – and fail in school – because we aren’t taking advantage of a program that we already pay for,” said Congressman Josh Gottheimer (NJ-5). “Only 55% of eligible New Jersey students participate in the School Breakfast Program. We are flushing food, money, and our children’s futures down the drain because some of our superintendents aren’t chasing these forms. We send our tax dollars to Washington and we should be demanding them back for breakfast for our children.”

In New Jersey, out of all eligible students who could receive free or reduced cost breakfast, only 55% are actively enrolled. While states like West Virginia and New Mexico have participation rates above 70%, New Jersey is allowing 45% of K through 12 students who meet food assistance requirements to go unmet. To apply, parents must submit their proof of eligibility paperwork, if they are not automatically enrolled which can change from year to year. For parents and schools, this yearly paperwork requirement has led to confusion and lower participation rates. Parents should know that at any time during the school year, they can enroll and withdraw their students into free or reduced meals as their needs change. Additionally, many schools only remind parents and students at the beginning of the school year to sign up – typically the busiest time for families when a form can quickly be forgotten at home or crumpled in the bottom of a backpack. Congressman Gottheimer calls upon schools to continually work with parents to boost enrollment throughout the year, and remind each family that they can enroll their children any time, as needed.

At the event, Congressman Gottheimer discussed strategies that schools, parents, and engaged community members can use to boost participation rates. Specifically, parents who have once utilized the program but did not sign up for the new school year should be a red flag for schools to assist.

“We as teachers know that before you can think about school, you need to have energy so that you can apply yourselves in school. That’s why our breakfast and lunch program is so important,” said Haceknsack Superintendent Rosemary Marks.

“There’s a lot of research that shows it’s pretty clear that students whose nutritional status is compromised — they don’t have great nutrition — eating school breakfasts is linked with all kinds of good outcomes.” said Doctor Amanda Birnbaum, Professor and Chair of the Department of Public Health at Montclair State University. “Even if your own child is well-fed, the whole classroom experience will be more effective if all the other children are well-fed. And that is the benefit and beauty of universal breakfast.”

“I grew up in this neighborhood. It is a blue-collar neighborhood with a lot of hard-working parents. It’s very important that our students get breakfast in the morning, because our parents are sometimes busy trying to get to work and they might not have time to make a healthy breakfast. We rely on our school breakfast daily to make sure that our students get the energy and nourishment they need,” said Angelica Carfi-Meneses, a Jackson Avenue parent. “Talking to other parents, getting our forms in is very important. Without secretaries and parents collaborating, this wouldn’t happen, we wouldn’t have this program.”

Video of the event can be found HERE.

Below: Data from the Advocates for Children of New Jersey on NJ-5 schools with fewer than 20 percent eligible students. Sources: New Jersey Departments of Education and Agriculture, compiled by Advocates for Children of New Jersey. This chart excludes data from the Special Services Commission and vocational districts because accurate data were not available for these types of districts.

Below: Congressman Gottheimer (NJ-5) greets children at the Jackson Avenue School.

Below: Congressman Gottheimer (NJ-5) talks with children from the Jackson Avenue School about the importance of the school breakfast program for New Jersey students.

Below: Congressman Gottheimer’s remarks as prepared for delivery:

That’s 5,665 students district-wide that all want and deserve every opportunity to succeed in school.

That success starts with breakfast. It starts with the milk, cereal, and fruit these students at Jackson Avenue are eating.

September is Hunger Action Month and every child should start the school day with a healthy breakfast.

Studies show that students who skip breakfast generally have slower memory recall, make more errors and are more likely to be absent or tardy and to repeat a grade. Hunger is correlated with lower physical activity, stomach aches, headaches, depression, anxiety and a decreased ability to focus.

On the other hand, students who eat breakfast generally have better vitamin and nutrient intake, enjoy overall healthier diets and are less prone to being overweight or obese. According to the National Institute of Health, students who eat breakfast consistently show improvement in verbal fluency, arithmetic, tests of attention, memory, creativity, physical endurance, and general tests of academic achievement and cognitive functioning. Students who eat meals at school are less likely to be hyperactive and have fewer behavioral and attention problems than their hungry peers.

A Tufts University study showed elementary school students who eat breakfast listen better and have better spatial memory and short-term memory than students who skip breakfast.

So, while we can all agree that breakfast is better than no-breakfasts, limited food budgets, or challenges with early work schedules and transportation in the morning make it difficult for many families to provide a healthy breakfast every morning. Too often children arrive at school without the fuel they need to be active participants in the classroom. You can’t propel a rocket without fuel – the same goes for a growing student. They are rockets ready to take off. They won’t without the fuel in the tank.

You heard examples of that today from Rosemary and Angelica.

In fact, a Share our Strength survey showed that three out of four public school teachers say that students regularly come to school hungry.

With the tremendous benefits that science tells us eating breakfast provides our children, shouldn’t we be doing everything possible to make sure that no child starts the day hungry?

Shouldn’t we make sure that every child can achieve his or her potential?

This is especially true when there are federal funds available that we can easily take advantage of right now.

Most administrators are at least familiar with the School Breakfast Program, funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. It plays a crucial role in making sure our children get the food they need to focus and excel in the classroom. The federal program reimburses schools for free and reduced-cost breakfasts served to students whose parents apply for the program. At no cost to the school or our local taxes, the federal government has already allocated dollars to give our hungriest students the meals they need to succeed.

According to the USDA, universal school breakfast program participation is associated with higher rates of attendance and declines in tardiness. Schools with increased participation in school breakfast programs had their proportion of children chronically tardy decreased by 67%.

But barriers, including stigma, bureaucratic paperwork, and transportation logistics cause school breakfast participation rates to be low. Of the nearly 20 million low-income students in the U.S. who ate free or reduced-price lunch in 2011, only about 9.8 million participated in the School Breakfast Program. In 2010, that was $582 million in federal child nutrition funding that states failed to request.

In New Jersey, only 55% of eligible students participate in the School Breakfast Program. And many North Jersey schools are worse. School districts in Bergenfield, Bogota, Teaneck, Franklin, Newton, Sussex-Wantage, Vernon, Hackettstown, Knowlton, and Washington (Warren) are all below 50% utilization. Fewer than 50% of the students who are already receiving free or reduced lunches who qualify for breakfasts are not receiving federal help for their breakfasts. Mansfield is at 11 percent participation. Lodi – 10 percent. Rochelle Park – 8 percent.

That’s money left on the table.

And that’s a big problem when you consider that while we have 55% of students participating, states like West Virginia and New Mexico have participation rates in the 70s.

We are one of the top three percent tax-paying Districts in the Country, yet we only get 33 cents back for every federal tax dollar we send to Washington. West Virginia already gets $4.23 cents for every tax dollar they send. In short, we’re sending our New Jersey tax dollars to Washington to subsidize other payee states – or what I call the “moocher states.” States that take more than they put in.

If they can get participation in the 70s, why can’t we? This is a prime example of a program that our region can easily utilize tand put to work dollars that we are already sending to Washington.

In the Fifth District alone, the Advocates for Children of New Jersey estimates that there are $2,575,157 in federal dollars allocated for our students that we aren’t asking for.

We are failing 8,100 students across the Fifth District. That’s unacceptable.

No kid in our district should start their days hungry — and fail in school — because we aren’t taking advantage of a program that we already pay for.

We are flushing food, money, and our children’s futures down the drain because some of our superintendents aren’t chasing these forms. We send our tax dollars to Washington and we should be demanding them back for breakfast for our children.

I’m calling on every school, and every superintendent, to do the right thing and make these funds a priority today. Don’t let one more day go by and one more kid go hungry in the morning.

Earlier this year, I wrote to every superintendent in the District, reminding them to participate and pursue the USDA’s School Breakfast Program and we will keep following up.

Participating in this program is a great way to combat hunger in our communities and bring more federal dollars to help residents of the Fifth District.

This school, the Jackson Avenue School, is a great example of a school that focused on this problem, assessed the strategies available to them, and now execute a program tailor-made for their specific student population.

They participate in a part of the School Breakfast Program that provides 100% of students here to have free breakfast. Hackensack is leading the way. And schools across North Jersey should be, too.

If schools, mayors, or parents want more information on this program or need assistance implementing it, they should get in touch with my office. We’re working closely with the USDA and New Jersey’s Department of Agriculture towards making this a priority.

I’ll be setting up a call in the coming weeks with the USDA so that administrators can address specific concerns with an expert. They can help us find new strategies, like setting up automatic enrollment programs – like Jackson Avenue – or finding a delivery strategy that works better for an administrator’s specific school district.

Parents, please work with school leaders to make sure that they get your documentation to apply for these funds.

In Congress, I will continue working hard to strengthen nutritional programs and stand strong against misguided changes to block grant school meals, or roll back school nutrition standards.

With simple steps like these, we can continue to make New Jersey public schools the best in the nation.

Thank you. God bless you, and God bless the United States of America.


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