Let’s put an end to Summer Hunger in San Diego
For many children, the arrival of summer can mean summer camp or a family vacation. For millions of low-income children, however, summer can mean wondering where they’ll get their next meal. For years, many children eligible for free and reduced priced meals have been unable to access meals during their summer break, making hunger an unnecessary part of their summer months.
Our country has a long history of providing support for children in need. At the end of World War II General Lewis Hershey, the head of the Selective Service System, told Congress that child hunger was a threat to our national security. He pointed out that poor nutrition was to blame for almost half of rejected draftees in World War II. It was the dawn of the Cold War and Congress was eager to act swiftly to ensure a healthy fighting force. The resulting National School Lunch Act has dramatically reduced child hunger and improved academic performance by using federal resources to provide free and reduced price meals for children living in poverty.
Thanks to the School Lunch Act, 22 million low-income children received healthy, nutritious meals in school last year. In theory, meals are also available during the summer at other locations, such as schools, churches, community centers, and food banks. In practice, very few eligible children have access to these meals. Many parents and children are not always aware of the availability. There are also issues of accessibility for working parents who may not be able to take their children to summer meal sites. As a result, only about 14% of eligible students continue receiving meals in the summer. In San Diego alone this summer gap affects 90,000 children.
Fortunately, we know how to fix this problem. For the last few years, the Department of Agriculture (USDA) has been conducting a pilot program that provides parents of eligible children with an Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) card at the end of the school year to help them pay for meals that their kids would typically receive in school.
By all accounts, the program has been a huge success. According to USDA, the Summer EBT pilot has seen high participation rates and has been shown to reduce hunger in low-income children by a third. It has also resulted in more healthy food intake, with children eating more fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and dairy foods, while consuming less added sugars from sugar-sweetened beverages.
Unfortunately, the Summer EBT for Children pilot program is currently being tested in just 14 locations around the country. San Diego is not one of those locations. To address this issue, I joined with Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) to introduce the Stop Child Summer Hunger Act, which would expand the Summer EBT pilot nationwide and help the 90,000 children in San Diego who fall into the summer meal gap every year. Now that we know what works, Senator Murray and I think it’s time for Congress to act!
It looks like President Obama agrees. Our efforts recently got a major boost when his Administration announced its intention to provide a federal funding increase for this program in his budget for fiscal year 2017. The President’s $12 billion proposal would allow a much-needed expansion of a proven program to feed millions of children in the summer months.
We know that well-fed children do better in school. They are able to pay attention and focus on their learning. We want that ability to learn and explore to carry over to the summer months. A child is less likely to engage in summer reading or go out and play if they are hungry.
The Summer EBT program is about more than feeding hungry children, which is of great importance. It is about investing in our kids and in the future of our country.
No child should go hungry and no parent should have to worry about being able to feed their child. The Summer Food Service Program builds on a proven and simple solution to filling the meal gap that millions of children face every summer. Expanding this program will be good for our kids, good for education and good for the economy.
This editorial first appeared in Uptown News.