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President’s Budget Could Close Summer Meal Gap For 68K Children In San Diego County

Many children in the county who qualify for free school lunches aren't getting assistance during summer break.

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President Barack Obama's budget proposal this week is expected to include the launch of a $12 billion effort to keep low-income children fed when school is out.

San Diego hunger relief advocates are lauding the plan.

It would give the parents of children who qualify for free school meals about $45 in additional CalFresh, or food stamp, credit each month during the summer.

Currently in San Diego County, a handful of schools and recreation centers in each community open their doors to serve lunch during break. But Robin McNulty, with the San Diego Hunger Coalition, said more than 68,000 kids in need aren't making it to those sites.

"That's a lot of children in San Diego County during the summer months that do not have access to healthy food," McNulty said.

The estimate comes from a 2015 study by the California Food Policy Advocates that showed 41 percent of students eligible for free school meals weren't participating in existing summer food programs. McNulty said the word isn't getting out to many families. Others lack transportation to the facilities serving lunch.

The program would roll out over 10 years and has already been piloted in other states.

Research from the pilot suggests children receiving the extra benefits ate more healthfully and cost the federal government less than they would have had they relied on the meals at schools and recreation centers.

McNulty also said tying summer benefits to CalFresh ensures those getting assistance are eligible. Community meal sites welcome any child under 18 years.

Congresswoman Susan Davis (D–San Diego) has twice sponsored bills to expand the pilot nationwide, but they failed to make it out of committee. Senators Barbara Boxer (D–California) and Dianne Feinstein (D–California) have also cosponsored similar bills.

"It's something that us and our partners have wanted to see happen," McNulty said. "So for the president to roll it out, we're quite excited about it."

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