Right now, there are 165,969 parents in San Diego County whose children get free school lunches as part of a county-wide implementation. It’s not a perfect solution, but it does keep kids full and nourished, which allows them to focus on school so they can move forward in life. Instead of worrying about empty, growling stomachs, the kids are free to just be kids: passing notes in class, running around on the playground, and duking it out with each other for best grades in the class.
However, come summertime, that time of year when kids are free from the constraints of school, they’re also burdened with the harsh realities of their lives. There are no subsidized lunches in the summer because school’s out for the summer, and a decades-old program enacted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to fill that gap hasn’t been as successful as it needs to be.
Now, though, San Diego has grabbed the bull firmly by the horns and is trying to change things itself. They’re trying to get the 70% of eligible students who don’t show up to the summer programs to still get fed anyway, and they’re trying to do that by getting lawmakers to give families more food stamps during the summer months.
Their reasoning is that kids have to be fed one way or another, and if the vast majority of them aren’t showing up for the USDA summer program, then why not give parents the flexibility to feed their children at home? Just because kids are on summer break doesn’t mean their parents are, too, and may not always be available to drop them off at a library or rec center. Some parents also don’t have a method of transportation to get their kids there, if they’ve even heard of the program at all.
Let’s put aside for one second that the current summer program only serves about 30% of students. From an economical standpoint, only $70 per month per child is spent, which amounts to roughly $18 a week on lunches. That’s a pretty good amount of money to spend on subsidized lunches, and an excellent jumping off point.
But in terms of pure dollars, the new pilot project would just about cut that money in half to only $30 or $60 per month per child. Further, the money would go onto families’ EBT cards, so they would be able to buy exactly the lunches they’d want for their child, stock up on pantry essentials, and not have to worry about finding the time or transportation to send their kids to the subsidized lunches.
It’s the kind of program that makes sense on all levels, no matter what your political stripes are. Whatever differences people have in this country, one thing they all agree on is children need to be fed, and especially if they’re going to have any chance of growing into productive, contributing adults.