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San Diego County School Districts Are Leaving $170M In Federal Nutrition Aid On The Table

A poster says,

Photo by Megan Burks

Above: A poster says, "A future engineer is hungry," at a San Diego Hunger Coalition press conference, Oct. 24, 2018.

San Diego County schools and nonprofits are leaving at least $170 million in federal funding to address childhood hunger on the table.

That’s according to a report out Wednesday from the San Diego Hunger Coalition that looks at the extent to which each school district in the county is tapping into nutrition aid by offering federally-funded breakfast, lunch and supper for low-income children.

“We’re all to blame, all of us collectively, for not addressing this problem sooner,” said Feeding San Diego CEO Vince Hall at a press conference Wednesday. “But all of us owe our thanks to the Hunger Coalition for saying enough is enough. Today is the day we turn the corner.”

About 70 percent of the missed dollars comes from districts and after-school programs not opting in to the after-school supper program. Paloma Perez Bertrand, who helps districts and other groups navigate federal nutrition programs on behalf of the coalition, said the program is only a few years old in California, so many don’t know about it or haven’t yet put in the time to sign up. She said signing up can be intimidating, but it’s worth it for the 213,607 kids the coalition estimates are eligible.

“Some of the students are eating lunch as early as 10:30 in the morning, so by 3 p.m. they’re already hungry and they still have to do homework and do other activities,” Bertrand said. “And for some students, we know that may be the last meal they have during the day before eating breakfast the next day.”

Feeding San Diego, which administers meal programs at community sites such as the YMCA, received an advance copy of the report and has since committed to adding additional programs. It currently administers seven after-school supper programs and plans to add eight more by the end of the calendar year.

“When you have ($170 million) dollars in federal tax money that is being left for other states to spend — but being paid for by Californians — you have an embarrassment to the taxpayers of our community,” Hall said. “And when you have one out of every (five) children in our county struggling with hunger at the time that you’re leaving the federal money that can solve the problem in Washington, then that is truly an embarrassing situation.”

Download the report to see where your district stands here.

The San Diego Hunger Coalition is urging schools and after-school program providers to opt into federal breakfast, supper and summer meal programs.

Feeding San Diego is a community partner of KPBS.


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