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Helping Hungry Kids Eat At Home When School Is Out

Above: About 70 percent of San Diego County students who qualify for free meals at school aren't showing up to claim meals offered to them at summer programs run by school districts and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

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Aired 7/30/14 on KPBS News.

Hungry kids aren't showing up to programs that exist to feed them when school — and free lunches — are done for the year. A new bill would give their parents extra food stamps to help them eat at home.

On average, 70 percent of San Diego children who qualify for free meals at school aren't showing up to programs designed to keep them fed when school is out for the summer. Congresswoman Susan Davis (D-San Diego) proposed a measure Tuesday that would give their families more food stamp dollars during the summer instead of asking them to show up at libraries and recreation centers for the meal programs.

Davis points to a study that shows a lack of transportation and awareness keep the majority of students who qualify from claiming free summer lunches at various community sites.

She said hunger could worsen what educators call "summer learning loss" in low-income students.

"They're not studying, they're not focusing on learning, and that's going to happen," Davis said. "But I think it happens particularly when children just truly are not well fed during the summertime."

Davis said the bill would not cut into funding for existing summer meal programs, which often include activities to help stave off learning loss.

The bill would expand nationwide a pilot program that gave parents in eight states up to $60 extra on their EBT cards each month during the summer. Those receiving Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits — also called SNAP or food stamps — use EBT cards to buy groceries at food retail stores.

Students in the pilot were reportedly less hungry, ate fresher foods and cost the federal government less than traditional meal programs. Sen. Patty Murray (D-Washington) has already called for Congress to expand funding for the program in the Senate's Agriculture Appropriations bill.

Davis said the full cost of of the nationwide expansion hasn't yet been calculated. She wants to fund her bill by closing a tax loophole that she said lets companies doing the majority of their business in the United States skip paying taxes by claiming their tax home elsewhere. She said that should also satisfy a Congress that has been divided on funding levels for nutrition assistance programs in recent years.

The number of Americans using food stamps has increased by about 7.5 million since 1990. In February, lawmakers voted to cut $8.6 billion from SNAP over the next decade.

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