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On average, 70 percent of San Diego children who qualify for free meals at school aren’t showing up to programs designed to keep them fed when school is out for the summer.

Rep. Susan Davis (D-San Diego) proposed a measure Tuesday that would give their families more food stamp dollars during the summer instead of asking them to show up at libraries and recreation centers for the meal programs.

Davis points to a study that shows a lack of transportation and awareness keep the majority of eligible students from claiming free summer lunches at various community sites.

She said hunger could worsen what educators call “summer learning loss” in low-income students.

“They’re not studying, they’re not focusing on learning, and that’s going to happen,” Davis said. “But I think it happens particularly when children just truly are not well fed during the summertime.”

Davis said the bill would not cut into funding for existing summer meal programs, which often include activities to help stave off learning loss.

The bill would expand nationwide a pilot program that gave parents in eight states up to $60 extra on their EBT cards each month during the summer. Those receiving Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits – also called SNAP or food stamps – use EBT cards to buy groceries at food retail stores. The program was not offered in California.

Students in the pilot were reportedly less hungry, ate fresher foods and cost the federal government less than they would have if they went to a summer meal site for lunch. Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) has already called for Congress to expand funding for the program in the Senate’s Agriculture Appropriations bill.

Davis said the full cost of of the nationwide expansion hasn’t yet been calculated, but that she’ll fund it by closing a tax loophole that she said lets companies doing the majority of their business in the United States skip paying taxes by claiming their tax home elsewhere. She said that should also satisfy a Congress that has been divided on funding levels for nutrition assistance programs in recent years.

The number of Americans using food stamps has increased by about 7.5 million since 1990. In February, lawmakers voted to cut $8.6 billion from SNAP over the next decade.

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...

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