August 11, 2022

Senator Booker and Speaker Coughlin, thank you for the opportunity to provide testimony today. I am Triada Stampas, President and CEO of Fulfill, the food bank serving Monmouth and Ocean Counties, and I am here on behalf of the five food banks that, together, serve all 21 counties of the Garden State: Community FoodBank of New Jersey, the Food Bank of South Jersey, Mercer Street Friends, Norwescap, and Fulfill.

We thank you both for your leadership at the federal and state levels to keep hunger at the forefront of our public policy. Senator Booker, we applaud your support for our work both as a policymaker and as a private citizen, and we look forward to working with you and your team to ensure that the needs of food insecure Garden State residents are heard in both the Child Nutrition reauthorization process and in the upcoming Farm Bill. Speaker Coughlin, we are profoundly grateful that you have chosen to champion ending hunger in our state and that you have not only helped build support in our state legislature to sustain the large-scale pandemic response required of us these past few years, but have led policy improvements to improve access to healthy food across our state.

We are the main suppliers of food and other resources to a statewide network of more than 1,500 local food pantries, soup kitchens, shelters, and other community-based distribution sites. Through this network and our own direct distribution initiatives, we are there for New Jerseyans in their moments of need. In fact, in Fiscal Year 2021 (July 2020-June 2021), we collectively supplied enough food for more than 107 million meals.

Because food insecurity is driven by a web of factors, including poverty, unemployment, and high costs of living, we also offer a variety of other services to combat those root causes, including connecting New Jersey residents to benefits that help them afford food, providing nutrition education to promote healthy food choices, and training people for jobs that can put them on a path to self-sustainability.

We see hunger, and its associated effects on nutrition and health, every day. In our food system, the most nutrient dense foods – fresh produce, dairy, and protein items – are often those that are most perishable and most expensive. It is no coincidence that food-insecure individuals struggle to get good nutrition and suffer health consequences as a result. Because food-insecure individuals are disproportionately vulnerable to diet-related diseases, including diabetes, obesity, hypertension and heart disease, we appreciate the White House’s insistence that our collective goal should be to ensure that food security truly be nutrition security.

The COVID-19 pandemic showed us the interconnectedness of so many issues, including health, education, housing, workforce development, and yes, food insecurity. It has magnified the urgency and importance of our work, as lockdowns shut down schools and businesses, interrupted or eliminated jobs, and forced many to sacrifice paid work for home-schooling and caregiving responsibilities at home. The pandemic has also increased the complexity of our work: the imperative to mitigate the spread of this highly infectious disease required every charitable food provider to adapt their operations – moving indoor distributions outside, setting up no-contact drive-through distributions, etc. – while serving a higher level of need than we had ever seen.

As the White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health prepares to convene next month, we appreciate your efforts to elevate our home state’s voices and needs, and are grateful for the opportunity to provide our input.

Food Insecurity Trends in New Jersey and the U.S.

In 2019, prior to the pandemic, New Jersey had a food insecurity rate of 7.7 percent, with approximately 660,000 residents struggling to put food on the table at some point over the year. Up until that point, food insecurity rates, both nationally and in New Jersey, had been in steady decline for nearly a decade, after peaking in 2011 as a result of the Great Recession (which lasted from December 2007 through June 2009). Food insecurity rates did not return to pre-recession levels until 2018 in New Jersey – nine years after the end of the recession – and 2019 in the U.S. overall – ten years after the recession ended.

Relief Measures Helped Mitigate the Food Security Impacts of the Pandemic in 2020

In March 2020, the start of the pandemic triggered a disruption of daily life unprecedented in the experiences of most Americans. Across the nation and here in New Jersey, many who were a paycheck or two away from hardship were pushed over the edge. Weekly unemployment insurance claims skyrocketed, and food banks and other charitable food providers sprang into action. In late April 2020, The New York Times reported on “food lines a mile long in America’s second wealthiest state.”

In addition to the efforts of the charitable food assistance network, a number of direct relief measures went into effect to help individuals and families stay afloat, including stimulus payments, a federal supplement to unemployment insurance payments, the Advanced Child Tax Credit, Pandemic EBT, and emergency rental assistance. In addition, policy changes in response to the pandemic temporarily protected renters from eviction, paused student loan repayments, and gave new flexibilities to nutrition assistance programs. These new flexibilities increased the benefits available from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), expanded eligibility and access to child nutrition programs, and shifted more administrative processes to phone and online in order to make them more COVID-safe.


“Tully, Tracey. “Food Lines a Mile Long in America’s Second-Wealthiest State.”
The New York Times, April 30, 2020.

Remarkably, despite mass unemployment for a substantial part of the year, food insecurity rates remained largely unchanged at the national level in 2020, compared to 2019. In New Jersey, food insecurity rose by 0.7 percentage points in that time, from 7.7 percent to 8.4 percent.

Racial Disparities in Food Insecurity Deepened during COVID-19

Even as overall rates of food insecurity in 2020 remained substantially similar to 2019 levels, food insecurity among Black and Latinx households increased, deepening disparities along racial and ethnic lines.2 Many communities of color experience disparities in the underlying drivers of food insecurity, such as unemployment, income shocks, disability status, and homeownership. This creates greater vulnerability to food insecurity.

In 2020, food insecurity among Black individuals increased to 24 percent from 19.2 percent the year prior, a significant increase. This rate is more than three times as high as food insecurity among white individuals (7.6 percent in 2020).

Food insecurity among Latinx individuals also increased in that time, from 15.8 percent in 2019 to 19.3 percent in 2020, making Latinx individuals 2.5 times as likely to be food insecure as white individuals.

In addition, the data show higher than average food insecurity rates among Native American individuals, and among certain groups of Asian Americans.

Given the historic legacy of housing segregation, these racial and ethnic disparities also manifest as geographic disparities. We see that certain communities not only have higher than average food insecurity rates, they often also exhibit under-investment in food access, with less or more distant retail access to food than average.

Inflation is a Key Driver of Food Insecurity

The persistence of elevated food insecurity long after the Great Recession has important lessons for the present day. Research by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) in 2014 found that inflation, particularly in the relative price of food, acted to keep food insecurity rates high despite employment gains.3 In fact, the effects of inflation were so powerful that they “almost exactly offset” the improvements to food security that would have been expected as unemployment declined.

Today, we once again find ourselves at a moment of low unemployment and high inflation. The direct relief measures put into place at the start of the pandemic have expired, and the related policy changes have also begun to lapse. As food banks, we see that utilization of the charitable food assistance network is often an early signal of changes in food insecurity rates. For example, in Monmouth and Ocean counties, we have seen steady increases in pantry utilization every month since the start of the year; indeed, the number of pantry visits was 60 percent higher in June than

2 Coleman-Jensen, Alisha, Matthew P. Rabbitt, Christian A. Gregory, and Anita Singh. 2021. Household Food Security in the United States in 2020, ERR-298, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service.
3 Nord, Mark, Alisha Coleman-Jensen and Christian Gregory. Prevalence of U.S. Food Insecurity Is Related to Changes in Unemployment, Inflation, and the Price of Food, ERR-167, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service, June 2014.

it was in January. It would be fair to anticipate that our current rosy employment picture belies a serious food affordability crisis.

Recommendations for the White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health

We appreciate the long-term impact of the work of the White House Conference even as the present need compels us to act with urgency and immediacy. The recommendations we make here are a combination of grounding principles to guide long-term goal-setting, as well as near-term tactics that can make appreciable improvements in the lives of the millions of Americans who are food insecure.

Keep Hunger and Food Insecurity at the Forefront

We ask that the Conference keep hunger and food insecurity at the forefront of their goals. Doing so will not only do the most good for the most vulnerable among us, it will lift up all other issues related to food insecurity, including health and wellbeing. It is not a coincidence that low-income, food-insecure individuals disproportionately experience diet-related disease; the food choices most available and affordable to low-income households are typically not those that best support physical health.

Center the Experiences of People Facing Hunger

We urge the Conference to ground its work in the experiences of people facing hunger, and ensure the solutions it generates preserve their agency and dignity. People experiencing food insecurity already have limited choices and face painful tradeoffs – food or rent, food or medicine, food or transportation, etc.

One recent example is Judith, a Red Bank resident who lost her husband to COVID in November 2020, leaving her the sole breadwinner for herself and three school-aged children. Her earnings as a housecleaner totaled $2,000 per month; the monthly rent for her apartment was $1,700. After paying for gas and utilities, she had no money for food; instead, she had been visiting a food pantry every week to put food on the table for herself and her children. When Fulfill was able to connect her to pandemic rental assistance and SNAP, it was the first time in over a year that she had the ability to shop for food for her family.

The Conference’s recommendations must be designed to alleviate those tradeoffs and provide more options, not less. Solutions should maintain dignity and inclusion by enabling food-insecure individuals to access mainstream retail sources of food. Centering the experiences of people facing hunger compels us to look comprehensively and holistically at the challenges our neighbors confront to put food on the table – and point to a broad set of solutions, beyond the most obvious food assistance programs. At the Food Bank of South Jersey’s recent listening session in Salem, for example, participants talked about access to transportation and technology as being central to thriving and being food secure.

Address Disparities Head On

In addition, the Conference must recognize – and design its recommendations to address – the racially and geographically disparate outcomes perpetuated by the current system. Communities

We appreciate the long-term impact of the work of the White House Conference even as the present need compels us to act with urgency and immediacy. The recommendations we make here are a combination of grounding principles to guide long-term goal-setting, as well as near-term tactics that can make appreciable improvements in the lives of the millions of Americans who are food insecure.

Only when we understand the difficulties of our neighbors in need, will we be able to find meaningful solutions.

of color are both disproportionately likely to be food insecure, and more likely to experience food access issues. We see this pattern in the State of New Jersey’s recently identified food deserts – communities, more often than not, with higher than average Black and/or Latinx populations. The Conference should support efforts like this one, which target resources to improve food access and affordability directly in the most impacted communities.

Expand Access to Nutritious Food

Last, we must continue to expand access to nutritious food through both charitable food access and nutrition programs for people facing hunger and marginalized communities, particularly for people facing hunger impacted by diet-related disease. We encourage the outcome of this conference to further the connection and access to food assistance programs that will improve health. It is essential that we:

  • Strengthen and modernize SNAP, such as by boosting benefit amounts to more adequate levels, removing time limits and increasing participation. SNAP is the cornerstone of the nation’s response to hunger, and research shows it helps improve food security for participants. A key sign of the inadequacy of current benefit amounts is that food pantries across our state have come to expect higher demand at the end of the month, when benefits have run out. Lowering eligibility barriers and boosting benefits would amplify SNAP’s positive food security impact, and help mitigate the effects of inflation by increasing participating households’ food purchasing power.
  • Expand resources behind TEFAP and commodity programs that are at the center of the charitable food network response. Increasing the funding to the charitable food assistance network for both commodities and for storage and distribution will help support the sustained response needed through inflation and economic shocks. Doing so in a way that connects the charitable food assistance network to local growers will not only help ensure the most healthful product is available to those who need it most, but will support the local and regional development of our agricultural and food sector.
  • Ensure our Child Nutrition programs are expanded so children can thrive all year-round with healthy and nutritious food. Children are disproportionately at risk of food insecurity. We saw during COVID that flexibilities implemented as part of the pandemic response contributed to substantial increases in participation. Expanding access to federal child nutrition programs, such as by eliminating payment requirements for school meals, waiving area eligibility for the Summer Food Service Program, and creating a Summer EBT program, will improve children’s food security outcomes.


The White House Conference has the opportunity to design solutions that build upon a powerful and effective set of tools that are unfortunately insufficiently resourced for the need that currently exists. The result is that our interventions meet people when they are already in crisis. This conference should measure its success by how well it enables our country to prevent hunger in the first place, and to foster food and nutrition security for all.

We recognize that bold solutions require broad support, and New Jersey’s food banks are eager to partner with public and private sector stakeholders to advance those solutions. As the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation found in its recent report, there are already many examples of innovative work in the Garden State to bring together stakeholders and organize resources across sectors. The White House Conference has the potential to catalyze renewed momentum to end hunger in America, and we are grateful for this opportunity to provide our input for this important work.