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    The school year is winding down and many parents are thinking about how to keep their children active this summer. But for 165,969 San Diego County parents whose kids qualify for free school lunches, the bigger question may be how to keep their children fed. When school and the subsidized lunches that come with it end, so do reliable meals for some low-income children.

    Now local anti-hunger advocates are looking for new ways to help parents bridge the gap when free school lunches are off the table. In a recent report, the San Diego Hunger Coalition calls for lawmakers to expand a federal pilot program that gave families more food stamp dollars during breaks from school.

    Speak City HeightsThat’s because the program that already exists to bridge the summer meal gap doesn’t work as well as it should. Since the 1970s the U.S. Department of Agriculture has paid for low-income children to eat lunches at libraries and recreation centers during the summer. But those meal sites have always struggled to draw a crowd.

    On average, 70 percent of San Diego County children who receive free meals during the school year aren’t showing up to claim summer lunches, according to the California Food Policy Advocates.


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    Parke Troutman, public policy and advocacy director at the Hunger Coalition, recently surveyed parents about why they weren’t getting their kids to the meal sites, which the San Diego Unified School District calls Summer Fun Cafés. He said the top reason was parents just don’t know about them.

    “A lot of time parents are getting so bombarded with information that it doesn’t register,” Troutman said. He said schools typically program robocalls, send home flyers with students and enlist the media to get the word out.

    Of those who did know about the program, most told Troutman they just didn’t have reliable transportation for their children to get to the lunch sites. The target population is within 130 percent of the Federal Poverty Level and most of the parents work.

    The thinking now: Why not help children where they already are during the summer months – at home.

    The summer food stamp pilot was an effort to do that. It gave about 40,000 families across eight states $30 or $60 a month via their electronic benefit transfer – or EBT – cards, which is how individuals receive and spend food stamp dollars. They could then spend the extra money to stock their refrigerators and pantries.

    The pilot showed kids were less hungry and ate more fruits, vegetables and whole grains when given assistance to eat at home. And it cost less per child – the $30 or $60 monthly stipend – than funding community meal sites, which cost about $70 per child during the same time period.

    But there are currently no plans to expand the program – a feat that could prove difficult given concern about the cost of nutrition programs generally. Since 1990, the number of food stamp recipients has grown by 7.5 million and the average monthly benefit has gone up $27, adjusted for inflation.

    The food stamp program, formally called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, was the source of a years-long Congressional battle over the Farm Bill, which sets spending on food assistance and agriculture. It was reauthorized in February after lawmakers settled on cutting $8.6 billion over the next decade.

    But Troutman said lawmakers could expand the summer food stamp pilot to California and other states through their annual appropriations process or through next year’s Child Nutrition Act reauthorization.

    “These kids are our future and we need to take collective responsibility for feeding them,” Troutman said.

      This article relates to: City Heights, Food, News, Share

      Written by Megan Burks

      Megan Burks is a reporter for Speak City Heights, a media project of Voice of San Diego, KPBS, Media Arts Center and The AjA Project. You can contact her directly by emailing meburks@kpbs.org.

      27 comments
      Grammie
      Grammie subscribermember

      As all the students who cross the border daily to attend school in San Diego will be deprived of their meals during the summer, I suggest we send food trucks South of the border. 

      Jerry Hall
      Jerry Hall subscribermember

      Another national problem is that of the 21 million kids eligible for free breakfast programs, only half actually are fed. Using the standard reimbursement rate that equates to school districts leaving about $18m a school day in unclaimed reimbursement from the federal government. http://www.nokidhungry.org/back-to-school/


      Kids who eat school breakfasts attend school 1.5 days per year more (multiply that by 10+ million and learn how much state reimbursements schools lose), average 17.5% higher math scores and 20% are more likely to graduate. 

      These are alarming stats. It makes me wonder if districts don't feed these kids because it would require keeping cafeteria and nutrition staff on during the break between breakfast and lunch. The problem is that there are no real ways for communities to monitor this problem because the manifestations don't appear for years to come. 

      I have spoken to many teachers over the years and they have said that a hungry kid is nearly impossible to teach because they can't concentrate. So, they buy food and snacks from their own pocket (!) to teach someone else's kids. 

      Sadly, the kids most needing the educational support are handicapped because school administrators are making a financial decision to shortchange them. 

      This is not an accusation against any local school district but, the problem is rampant across the nation and without external focus on the subject we'll largely remain in the dark. 

      Some other great resources: 

      Amount reimbursed per meal: http://www.fns.usda.gov/sites/default/files/NAPs12-13Chart.pdf

      School Lunch Program participation chart: http://febp.newamerica.net/background-analysis/federal-school-nutrition-programs

      School Breakfast Program: http://www.fns.usda.gov/sbp/school-breakfast-program

      Parent school lunch investigation: http://fedup.dosomething.org/fedup

      Real lunch photos: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/09/18/the-sad-state-of-school-lunch-in-the-us-_n_3944016.html#slide=2921792

      Farm to School Network: http://www.parents.com/recipes/familyrecipes/quickandeasy/problem-with-your-childs-school-lunch/?page=1

      Multiple graphs and charts: http://www.nokidhungry.org/back-to-school/

      National

      School Lunch Program http://www.fns.usda.gov/sites/default/files/NSLPFactSheet.pdf

      Fast Facts http://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=372

      Food Research and Action Center http://frac.org/federal-foodnutrition-programs/national-school-lunch-program/

      Jerry Hall
      Jerry Hall subscribermember

      @Megan Burks  Hey, we're trying to be serious here... :) 

      Kidding. Thanks Megan. I started digging for numbers and it's a quagmire. 

      In any case it's good to feed. Many (me for example) never forget others that helped.

      Grammie
      Grammie subscribermember

      @Jerry Hall  Mr Hall, you give many good references. They lead me to believe that we in San Diego should be feeding all the hungry children in Mexico, to prevent any damage they may sustain, before they arrive in our city. We should consider this preventive insurance.

      Jerry Hall
      Jerry Hall subscribermember

      @Grammie Your reply speaks volumes. Funny how people (like you) imply illegal immigrants are the root of America's woes. Mock the subject of kids being hungry throughout the summertime but, my bet is most of these kids are American citizens. For the tiny fraction that aren't, the cost to San Diegans is likely infinitesimal. That being said, If it you'd like I'll send you fifty-cents if it would help assuage your rage.

      Jerry Hall
      Jerry Hall subscribermember

      @Jim Jones @Jerry Hall  Jim, it costs America less than two-cents a day (or about $6/year) per resident to feed every undocumented immigrant in America. This story is an analysis of San Diego facing a distribution system challenge that is preventing us from getting our two-cents a day to each of a tiny number of the total American undocumented immigrants that live within San Diego and who are qualified for these programs. 

      Overstating that this is somehow perpetuating poverty is flamboyant at best. This is a humanity issue, not a financial one. But, for those that are inextricably attached to their money, this is a two-cent issue that when solved will generate extraordinary social and financial benefits to our planet. 

      Yes, our federal government has left the borders open like a sieve, and our businesses profit enormously from this cheap labor but, you're surely not suggesting punishing innocent children who did not have the ability to make the choice by keeping them hungry? The larger immigration issue isn't a quick fix but, until then should we just let the current generation rot? 


      Much as you might want us to believe, you're not made of stone Jim, few of us are. Our frustration and resolve should be directed at the mechanisms, not the children... Pollyanna as that may appear.

      Grammie
      Grammie subscribermember

      @Jerry Hall  You know, that fifty cents sure would have helped me a lot when I was struggling to support my two small children by myself, without benefit of any kind of government assistance.

      Jerry Hall
      Jerry Hall subscribermember

      @Grammie @Jerry Hall  Sadly, it doesn't go as far as it used to eh? We're all here actually because of the sacrafice of many others before us. From pioneers to the slaves to our military. They paid the price. Maybe we can consider helping poor people part of our giving back? Or paying it forward even?

      In any case, I'm sure you'll agree, had you needed help you would have been grateful that there were options. It appears all this program is doing is helping significantly reduce per-child costs by shifting the dollars into food-stamp programs. The money was already allocated but, they found a way to do it for less money. 

      Jerry Hall
      Jerry Hall subscribermember

      To clarify this amount that equates to $1.9b in WIC, Food Stamps and Free Lunch programs in a 2004 study, which I divided by the current population of 300m or about 1.7 cents a day for each American. This came from a 2004 Center for Immigration Studies report. I deduce that zeroing in on free lunch programs to non-US citizen children is a fraction of that amount. 

      Megan Burks
      Megan Burks author

      @Jim Jones @Grammie @Jerry Hall  Micro Fact Check: Adults and children who reside in the U.S. illegally are not eligible for CalFresh, also called food stamps. Legal immigrants and citizen children of undocumented parents can receive food stamps. It's a bit different for the WIC program. Undocumented women can receive benefits while pregnant and up to a year postpartum. Keep in mind - feeding mom is feeding citizen baby.

      Most social welfare programs work this way. The benefits are going to their citizen children. Of course, there are indirect costs to taxpayers. But one of the biggies - emergency health care - may cost us less than we thought: bit.ly/1mT3BOJ

      And, something to lighten the mood (maybe?): onion.com/PUtLkm

      Sara_K
      Sara_K subscribermember

      165,969 San Diego County parents qualify for free school lunches for their children. Another stat in favor of Council President Todd Gloria's minimum wage hike proposal. (PS, don't sign petitions for a loophole-riddled version of a lower minimum wage hike. It's a diversion from the real deal.)

      Jerry Hall
      Jerry Hall subscribermember

      @Sara_K  The minimum wage issue is light years away from kids needing meals to make it. Ironically, you'll have a much more robust economy if we can get our kids a better education so the food issue is critical. We're shortchanging them (and the nearly 500k kids in K-12 schools in SD County) by not focusing on this issue imho.

      -P
      -P subscriber

      @Jerry Hall @Sara_K  It's not only instruction in a single class or two, but children who are having to cope with food insecurity  are much more likely to have brain development problems. As you  can guess, that can effect them (and society) for their entire lives.

      Jerry Hall
      Jerry Hall subscribermember

      @-P @Jerry Hall @Sara_K  Another great point. Summer learning loss is a big issue as well. (http://goo.gl/qsF2Q). I've also heard that poorer kids lose more knowledge because their experiences are vastly different than more privileged kids. Meaning little or no vacation travel, fewer trips to cultural events,  less reinforcement at home. So all the more reason to help them with meals in summertime.

      It seems if we have such an abysmal success rate we need to rethink our distribution network. It seems clear that the few distribution locations are not working and that they aren't close enough to motivate parents and caregivers to make the trip. For whatever reason they don't think it's important to feed their kids. And we know better. So, how can we come up with a better distribution system? Make it more mobile? Or, more distributed in neighborhoods and serve at more than a few locations. 

      Again, we pay now to address this issue or we pay for decades on the negative impacts to society if we don't fix this. 

      Jerry Hall
      Jerry Hall subscribermember

      @Jim Jones @Jerry Hall @-P @Sara_K  I can relate to having turrets in my fingertips. Just because I think and my fingers move, learning how to harness them for the greater good has been a challenge. I'm improving so I know there's hope for you too!

      Jerry Hall
      Jerry Hall subscribermember

      @Jim Jones @Jerry Hall @-P @Sara_K  Who would pay for that? What punishment do you recommend for these parents? Who would pay to institutionalize them? To house the children?

      Is this the kind of job security you want to promote or, do you want to promote giving them a few meals now and a lifetime of opportunity on top of a promising opportunity for social and financial returns to society?

      (This nearly concludes the Jim and Jerry show...)


      Steve Yuhas
      Steve Yuhas subscriber

      If parents and guardians are worried about what their children will eat and they are unwilling to take the time to take them to places where meals are serves, why should taxpayers do more for them? Either feeding their children is important or it is not. Something tells me that additional food stamp money will not only benefit the children that need to eat when school is out for the summer and their parents will benefit even more. What a shame that taking kids to eat is less important than sitting around and having the kids watch television or play video games.

      Jerry Hall
      Jerry Hall subscribermember

      @Steve Yuhas  Who pays for the kids when they're institutionalized or, when they commit crimes or otherwise draining resources? Taxpayers pay now or pay much more later.

      Jerry Hall
      Jerry Hall subscribermember

      @Jim Jones @Jerry Hall @Steve Yuhas  Hey Jim, this is about the poor. It's about not letting our fellow man suffer. I mention the financial losses because it seems to be the language of the new meee-llennium... or, the 'it's all about me' generation. This is a nationwide problem that's been boiling for decades, it can hardly be attributed to immigration issues.


      We're all grown men. We get it. Some people need a hand. 

      It's really sad we're discussing human compassion like it's a commodity.  

      What's laughable is how commonplace this conversation is, yet 83%+ of our nation claims they're somehow religion-related, ~76% stating they're Christian. Now that's hilarious. Guess it's all in the interpretation. (cite: http://religions.pewforum.org/affiliations)

      Jerry Hall
      Jerry Hall subscribermember

      @Jim Jones  Whoa, slow down turbo. This is a program that changes the mechanism of delivery of support and saves significant costs. I don't call that a handout, I call it wisdom.

      How do you gather I'm "institutionalizing poverty and dependence so those that find it useful can continue to profit". This story is about getting kids out of poverty no? NOT feeding them is keeping them in poverty and you seem to be arguing for that no?

      LOL me institutionalizing poverty. I'm griping that kids not eating is killing their chances of success. I'm griping that teachers shouldn't be feeding (or trying to teach) someone else's kids from their own pockets.

      On the religion front, I'm griping that this nation claims they are Christian (as I myself do) but, the amount of compassion we have for the world and ourselves is... well, let's just say lacking no? In all fairness what people do with their religion is entirely personal but, I just find it curious that there are such high levels of angst against our immigrants. They claim this faith then argue to step on the little guy - an attitude about as diametrically opposed to what Christ, Buddha, Mohammed or most religious leaders taught. 

      I'll own my responsibility but, I'll also say not having or improving programs like this is clearly threatening the futures of our poor and by extension all of us. 




       

      JLDodd
      JLDodd subscriber

      When I was younger immigrants needed to prove they could support themselves and their families to get into the US. I guess that doesn't work too well now for illegals and other parts of the Free Stuff Army of potential Democrat voters. 

      Jerry Hall
      Jerry Hall subscribermember

      @JLDodd  Well thank God we don't live by that standard. By that measure 50 million Americans would be affected. Should we just kick them out? Ah, to be privileged, how mighty of a feeling that must be. 

      JLDodd
      JLDodd subscriber

      @Jerry Hall @JLDodd  well I grew up in a poor family and made my own way since age 13. I don't feel any obligation to support those FSA folks…


      Jerry Hall
      Jerry Hall subscribermember

      @JLDodd It's not really a wise choice no? From a financial perspective it's not a good investment. We feed, educate and provide healthcare now, or pay 10x+ the cost later.  

      From a human side it's not a good investment. Society pays dearly socially.

      Not to mention the other human being can be lifted from a level of despair to a modicum of decency. 

      Man, I'm not sure what happened but, I was always raised and have believed it pretty reasonable and not impractical, that there was a social responsibility for the haves to share with the have nots. That those that could provide did. That we should treat each other like we would want to be treated. 

      Guess the new rule is if someone else doesn't positively affect my 401(k) I'm not supposed to give a crap? 

      That's going to go well...

      Jerry Hall
      Jerry Hall subscribermember

      @Jim Jones  JIM? Is that you? Who is that over there? I don't see our being in disagreement on this statement... whoever that is over there...