New Jersey is inching closer to providing free or discounted meals to all students in the state.

A law signed by Gov. Phil Murphy on Tuesday morning expands the pool of students who are eligible for free breakfast and lunch in school. More than 60,000 families are newly eligible for the perk, Murphy's office said.

But the benefit will come at a significant cost to New Jersey, since officials are going beyond the federal government's threshold for assistance.

Under the new law, schools that participate in the federal school lunch and breakfast programs will have to provide meals to kids in families that are making up to 224% of the federal poverty level, or about $67,000 per year. The rule kicks in at the start of the 2024-2025 academic year.

Currently, the income ceiling is 199% of the federal poverty level, or just under $60,000 per year.

"It will make life in New Jersey a little more affordable for working and middle-class families throughout our state," Murphy said before signing the bill at an event in South Amboy.

The measure sailed through both houses of the New Jersey Legislature at the start of 2024.

With the law, the programs are newly open to students in non-public schools, according to officials.

A fiscal estimate on the bill puts the price tag at $353,000 through the end of this fiscal year.

In Fiscal Year 2025, the cost to the state is estimated at $34.1 million. The cost is estimated at $7 million each year thereafter.

Murphy admitted the state is putting out "a significant amount of money," but he said it's an investment in the future contributors to the state's economy.

"This is a bet we're making," Murphy said.

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