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The nation’s Farm Bill seems to finally be progressing through Congress. (If you’re not sure what the Farm Bill has to do with you or San Diego, see this earlier post.)  There are reliable indications that it could be voted on in the House of Representatives as early as this week, which is why anti-hunger advocates are sounding a final alarm to rally voters to protect the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formally known as food stamps.

The program is facing $20 billion in cuts in the House’s version of the bill — igniting a contentious debate that put San Diego freshman Rep. Juan Vargas, who opposes the cuts, in the national spotlight after playing the Bible card last month.

Should the cuts go through, thousands of San Diego residents will feel them directly. Benefits that now amount to $1.50 per person/per meal would shrink to $1.30. To protest the cuts and illustrate how hard it is to make that $4.50 a day stretch, two dozen Democratic lawmakers have signed on to Oakland Rep. Barbara Lee’s SNAP Challenge and are tweeting their experiences. (None of San Diego’s representatives signed on for the challenge.)

Meanwhile, Feeding America, a nationwide network of more than 200 food banks, just released its new national study, Map the Meal Gap, which shows 460,000 San Diego residents (that’s 1 in 5) are at risk of hunger — a great majority of them are children. And yet, according to the USDA’s Reaching Those in Need report, California has the lowest rate of participation among those eligible for SNAP (called CalFresh locally).  (Why is the participation rate so low? Some point to the fear that families may lose their immigration status.)

Jennifer Gilmore, executive director of Feeding America San Diego, says of the 460,000  San Diegans who are at risk of hunger, two-thirds qualify for federal assistance. The remaining 170,00 aren’t eligible for federal food programs, and rely on charities like Feeding America for nutrition support.

“But the solution to hunger is not solely a charitable response,” she said. “We need to make sure those programs [like SNAP] are protected and preserved.”

Photo courtesy of Feeding America

The numbers are especially stark for San Diego children. According to the report, more than 162,000 local kids don’t know where their next meal is coming from. Regardless of how you feel about government-funded nutrition programs, that’s a sobering amount of hungry bellies out there, and the ramifications can be long-lasting, even after just one hunger experience.

“When children have access to food, young children who miss meals may overeat, leading to obesity and associated health problems,” said Dr. Shelia Gahagan, professor and chief, academic general pediatrics, child development and community health at the University of California, San Diego in a statement. “So food insecurity causes poor physical and mental health, and increases the chances that children will fail at school. Indeed, food insecure children suffer.”

Clare Leschin-Hoar

Clare Leschin-Hoar is a contributor to Voice of San Diego. Follow her on Twitter @c_leschin or email her

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