By Jake Tiger
On Feb. 16, the Rebovich Institute welcomed New Jersey Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin to Lynch Adler Hall for a discussion of politics and how his statewide fight against food insecurity has directly affected Rider University.
The evening was part of an ongoing series of guest speakers that aimed to solidify and enhance the Rebovich Institute’s teachings.
“One of our main goals is to connect Rider’s students with New Jersey’s public officials,” said Micah Rasmussen, director of the Rebovich Institute and organizer of the discussion. “We’re the closest campus to Trenton, so we have a unique ability to bring people here. … Our little, tiny corner of the world has so much to do with all of these decisions that are changing people’s lives.”
Before Coughlin stepped to the podium, Rasmussen introduced him to the audience of students, faculty and staff as the state’s “fiercest fighter against hunger,” with one of the Democrat’s main legislative focuses being the all-too-common issue of food insecurity.
“I was privileged to go to the White House food-insecurity conference back in October, and the things that other states are talking about in aspirational terms are things that we have in our rearview mirror,” said Coughlin. “We gave [food insecurity] the priority that it deserves, because I think it’s closer to a moral obligation than it is to a governmental function.”
After becoming assembly speaker in 2018, Coughlin played a major role in the recent restructures of New Jersey’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Hunger-Free Campus Grant Program.
Starting in March 2023, New Jersey’s minimum SNAP benefits will be increased from $50 to $95 monthly in an effort to combat increasing grocery prices. The reformation will also allow more college students to qualify for SNAP.
New Jersey’s expanded Hunger-Free Campus Grant Program provides monetary assistance to schools throughout the state to ensure that nutritious and affordable food is always within reach for college students who infamously struggle with food security.
On Feb. 9, the state Office of the Secretary of Higher Education awarded Rider with a grant north of $18,000 to aid in maintaining the university’s food and resource pantry, and to raise awareness of food insecurity throughout the campus, according to a press release from Rider.
“I didn’t realize how many people on college campuses struggle with food insecurity as well. Shame on me for that,” said Coughlin. “I do know it now, and we’ve done things to make [food security] a reality for students. Every campus has to have a food pantry. Every campus has to help students with SNAP benefits.”
Rider’s pantry provides food, clothing and other essentials to students in need and can be found in room 23 of the Joseph P. Vona Center, beside Daly’s Dining Hall. Operating hours and more information can be found on Rider’s website under the office of service and civic engagement resources tab.
“If any of you are out there and are hungry, please make sure you take advantage of those benefits,” said Coughlin. “We all know that nobody performs as well as they can if they have to worry about whether they’re going to eat or not.”
The Rebovich Institute plans to have more speakers later in the semester, with future guests including New Jersey Rep. Mikie Sherrill and Ian Millhiser, a political journalist for Vox.
Exact dates for the upcoming discussions are yet to be scheduled.