According to recent data from the Community Food Bank of New Jersey, 800,000 New Jersey residents face hunger every day. That includes 192,580 New Jersey children—one in 10—facing hunger. The number of individuals receiving NJ SNAP (formerly known as food stamps) benefits rose more than 15%, from 769,331 in September 2020 to 887,467 in September 2021, according to data from the NJDHS.

The New Jersey Economic Development Authority (NJEDA) released a draft list of New Jersey’s 50 designated Food Desert Communities for public feedback. Over the next several years, up to $240 million in funding through the Food Desert Relief Act, part of the Economic Recovery Act (ERA) signed into law by Gov. Phil Murphy in January 2021, will be available to the designated communities.

“We are proud to unveil a robust definition of a Food Desert Community that is both reflective of the unique context of New Jersey and supportive of the hundreds of thousands of individuals affected by hunger every day,” said NJEDA Chief Executive Officer Tim Sullivan. “Today’s action to share the draft Food Desert Community designations with the public is the latest in a series of steps Governor Murphy’s administration is taking to eliminate hunger within the Garden State.”

Anyone wishing to provide feedback can visit https://www.njeda.com/program-specific-feedback to offer input before Feb 4. The NJEDA hosted listening sessions this week to solicit stakeholder input.

“We have an obligation as state leaders, and as human beings, to ensure that no New Jerseyan goes to bed hungry, regardless of their socioeconomic status,” said Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver. “By crafting one of the most comprehensive food desert designations in the country, we are leading the nation in taking necessary steps to eradicate food deserts and remove the barriers keeping our state’s residents from accessing nutritious food.”

The Food Desert Relief Act directs the NJEDA to address the food security needs of communities across New Jersey by providing up to $40 million per year for six years in tax credits, loans, grants, and/or technical assistance to increase access to nutritious foods and develop new approaches to alleviate food deserts.

The act strives to facilitate development, construction, and sustainable operations of new supermarkets and grocery stores within designated Food Desert Communities. It also aims to strengthen existing community assets by arming them with the necessary equipment and infrastructure to provide healthier food options.

In November, the New Jersey Department of Agriculture (NJDA) announced that $10 million in American Rescue Funds were being provided to community food banks throughout the state.

“Food insecurity is an ongoing crisis and gathering public input to solidify the Food Desert Communities designations will help connect residents facing hunger with fresh farm products grown and produced at many of New Jersey’s 10,000 farms,” NJDA Secretary Douglas Fisher said.

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