Nearly half of public school students in Washington state receive free or reduced-price breakfasts and lunches at school – about half a million children. But when school’s out for summer, it can be a struggle for low-income families to make their food budgets stretch.
Now U.S. Sen. Patty Murray is sponsoring a bill to give low-income families food benefits over the summer months so kids don’t go hungry.
Kids like Dara Kommavangsa's two daughters, who attend Seattle Public Schools. Kommavangsa said during the school year, she counts on school breakfast and lunch for her kids and just makes them dinner.
But summers are tough.
Although there are free summer meals available at community centers and other sites, Kommavangsa said her daughters are among the 90 percent of low-income Washington children who don’t take advantage of the programs.
"Yes, there is a lot of summer meal program sites out there, but is it reachable, is the thing. If your parents aren’t there at home, how are you able to go to a site?" Kommavangsa said.
Instead, her family relies on food banks and their own garden to get enough to eat in the summer months.
Murray’s proposal would give families like this a new tool: a debit card for summer food purchases.
At a press conference in Seattle on Friday, Murray said the success of the free and reduced price school breakfast and lunch program has long been established.
"And yet, for three months out of the year, we leave those kids without that nutrition," Murray said. "The compelling nature of that is something that everyone in Congress should listen to. They all support school lunches. But what they forget about is that kids go home in the summer."
Murray said her bill would be modest – families would receive $150 per child per summer to spend on approved food items.
She said the plan was modeled on a successful pilot project that’s fed children in 10 states.
The bill heads to the Senate Finance Committee.