By Susan A. Davis
Summer vacation invokes images of going to the beach or trips with the family. However, for too many children in San Diego and across America, it can mean going without food.
During the academic year, millions of children from low-income families rely on free or reduced-price meals when they attend school so they can get the nutrition they need. We know that well-fed children engage and learn better in the classroom. However, when school lets out in the summer months, many of these same students lose access to these meals.
In San Diego County, over 90,000 students who benefit from nutritious, affordable school meals during the academic year miss out on these school meals during the summer. Barbara and Silvia each have two children who rely on free or reduced-price meals at the elementary school they attend in San Diego. But when summer comes along, they struggle to fill this gap and use local food banks to put food on the table.
To address this crisis, I reintroduced the Stop Child Summer Hunger Act to provide families who have children eligible for free and reduced-price school meals with an electronic benefit transfer (EBT) card. This EBT card would provide $150, equal to about $60 per month, for each child eligible for free or reduced-price school meals. This will allow families to purchase groceries to replace the meals the children would otherwise have received at school.
The Stop Child Summer Hunger Act expands the successful Summer EBT for Children demonstration project, which has been piloted in 14 sites and 10 states (but not California) to all 50 states. This pilot program had positive results, decreasing hunger among children by 33%.
Despite the success of the program, low-income children could see this benefit taken away from them. The Department of Agriculture has recently announced that it will end the pilot program in Oregon. Which states could be next?
There is an existing federal program that provides low-income families across the nation with access to meals but its limitations mean not all children benefit.
The Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) attempts to fill the summer meal gap by providing funding to nonprofit, government, and religious entities to serve food to low-income children during summer breaks. However, while some areas of the country see great success with the SFSP, many barriers to participation in the program remain, including unfamiliarity with the program or sites, lack of transportation, and limited food distribution hours.
According to the Food Research and Action Center, in July 2017, 3 million children ate lunch on an average weekday at a summer meal site — only a fraction of the 20 million low-income children who participate in school lunch each day during the school year. Much of the low participation is due to limited public funding available to support summer programs for low-income children to attend, and as a result, children around the country are more likely to be hungry during the summer.
The Stop Child Summer Hunger Act, in conjunction with the SFSP, would ensure that children across the country don’t go hungry when school is out. Providing families with an EBT card, which is how low-income families use the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), will help those families who are unable to reach the sites where food is being distributed.
Expanding the summer EBT program is not only good for our kids but our economy. Using SNAP as a model, according to economists, every SNAP dollar that households redeem expands the economy by about $1.70. And many of the businesses who benefit from EBT use are small businesses.
No child should go hungry and no parent should have to worry about being able to feed their children. The Stop Child Summer Hunger Act builds on a proven and simple solution to fill the summer 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.
– Congresswoman Davis represents central San Diego, including the communities of Old Town, Kensington, Mission Hills, University Heights, Hillcrest Bankers Hill, North Park, South Park, Talmadge, Normal Heights, as well as La Mesa, Lemon Grove, Spring Valley and parts of El Cajon and Chula Vista.