The Monday Minutes for the next weeks will focus on spending issues in the FY 2011 budget. They will address proposals that affect different populations in New Jersey: school children, college students, working families, seniors, among others. It is not possible to analyze everything so the proposals selected will address small but important programs that have a particularly large impact on certain populations.
While New Jersey continues to struggle with the effects of the recession, Governor Christie’s budget eliminates $15.9 million in state funding for three important programs that help working families, their children and the schools they attend. If the Legislature includes these cuts in its final budget, many children will lose important, life sustaining benefits that help them from the time they eat breakfast in the morning until they go home at night.
The Governor’s proposed budget:
Eliminates all State funding for the school breakfast program: $3.0 million
Cuts State funding for the school lunch program: $2.4 million
Eliminates State funding for the New Jersey After 3 program: $10.5 million
School Breakfast and Lunch Programs
The Christie administration proposes to cut $5.4 million from school breakfast and lunch programs in the coming year. Luckily the federal government provides important (but not sufficient) funds so these vital programs will continue but at a reduced level.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) reimburses schools between 24 cents and $2.70 for the cost of meals they provide to children depending on the meal and the family’s income. A child in a family of four earning less than $27,560 is entitled to a free breakfast and lunch at school. The school is reimbursed between $2.50 and $2.70 by the federal government for that lunch. As family income rises, the school receives a smaller reimbursement. But even for children who pay the full price, the school receives between 24 cents and 33 cents per meal from USDA.
Cutting the state subsidy for meals provided by school districts will likely raise the meal prices charged to kids, reduce the quality of meals served or create a deficit in the food service program. If food services are provided by a private company and the costs of meals are fixed by contract, fewer children will probably be fed.
Access has been a problem in the school breakfast program. Although state law mandates that school districts with a 20 percent participation in the free and reduced price school lunch program must also participate in the school breakfast program, New Jersey ranked among the bottom ten states for school breakfast program participation in the 2008-2009 school year, according to the Food Research and Action Center. Only 38 out of every 100 students in New Jersey’s school lunch program also participated in the school breakfast program.
Expanding the school breakfast program in the past has been a priority. The Association for Children of New Jersey expects these budget cuts will curtail efforts to expand the program. Obstacles to feeding more children breakfast include the cost to the school of having adequate adult supervision for the students before they begin class and preparing the meals. A $3 million cut to the school breakfast program reduces state reimbursement to schools by 10 cents per breakfast served. Losing this revenue will particularly hurt school districts with successful school breakfast programs, such as schools in Newark which offer universal school breakfast and serve as a national model.
NEW JERSEY AFTER 3
Most working parents don’t finish work before 3 pm. Studies show that high quality after-school programs expand student learning time and keep kids safe.
Founded in 2004, New Jersey After 3 is a public/private partnership that works with local nonprofit agencies who collectively operate 115 programs-in local Ys, Boys and Girls Clubs, Jewish Family Services, and other organizations-that provide safe high quality affordable after school programs in 29 towns to approximately 12,000 students.
The Christie administration proposes eliminating the entire $10.5 million appropriation for the program in FY 2011. Since its inception, this program has raised approximately $45 million in non-state financial support. Among its lead investors are PSE&G, Bank of America, Americorps, Capital One Bank, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Novartis, Victoria Foundation, Verizon, JPMorganChase, PNC Bank, Sanofi Aventis, State Farm Insurance, the US Golf Association, the US Tennis Association and the Trenton Public Schools. With no state funding, it will fall on these lead investors to make up the state’s investment in these programs. Failing that, programs will close and/or after school child care costs will be unsustainable for many working parents.
Governor Christie’s mid-year budget cuts in February eliminated half of New Jersey After 3’s funding, leaving working parents with the dilemma of putting their children in more expensive programs or risk losing their jobs when they leave work early to pick up their kids from school. One mother from Vernon, New Jersey told the Star-Ledger that the New Jersey After 3 program at her local school gave her daughter high-quality care right on school grounds for $900 less per month then she was paying a private center. “I know they’re safe, they’re fed, they’re cared for.” This was important given that she and her husband each work an hour away from Vernon.
When Governor Christie proposed his budget he spoke of shared sacrifice, but corporations and the wealthiest New Jerseyans are not being asked to pay more. Rather, New Jersey’s children, their parents and the teachers and support staff who work with them are asked to sacrifice tremendously. Cuts to programs that hurt kids and put their parents’ and teachers’ jobs at risk in a shaky economy – that’s too much sacrifice.