San Diego Unified Leaders Warn: Cuts to School Meal Program May Force Families to Go Without Food


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District Works to Fill Holes Created by USDA Decision

SAN DIEGO– San Diego Unified leaders warned that federal cuts to school meal programs may cause families to go hungry in the new school year. The state’s second-largest school system will expand its own coverage to help fill the gaps created by the US Department of Agriculture’s decision to end supplemental food support for families.

The USDA last week moved to end the flexible Summer Food Service and Seamless Summer Option programs over the appeals of members of Congress and school district leaders. The agency decision will require school districts to severely limit the amount of food distributed to hungry families in our community.

“I am frankly shocked anyone would seek to cut food aid to families in the middle of a public health crisis,” said Board President John Lee Evans. “USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue needs to step up and use the power of his office to support SD families in need.”

Board Vice President Richard Barrera said the decision by the USDA poses yet another challenge to families already struggling to prepare for the new school year. Families, he said, will now be required to show proof of identification, proof of school of attendance and proof of eligibility in order to receive free meals from the school district.

“For families who are already struggling with the challenges created by the COVID-19 crisis, the federal government has put more barriers in place,” Barrera said. “Despite these new obstacles, San Diego Unified staff is prepared to work with all our families and our community partners to make sure no one goes hungry in the new school year.”

Barrera said the district would be taking additional steps in response to tougher standards from the USDA:

· The district will register every qualified family to participate in the free meals program. Families that live within certain school boundaries qualify automatically (list here). Others must complete a form for qualification (link here). Anyone who needs assistance completing the form, or who has questions about qualifications should contact Food & Nutrition Services at 858-627-7328.

· San Diego Unified is working with partners Feeding San Diego and the San Diego Food Bank to make sure all families that need assistance are able to receive it. Both organizations will be providing essential supplies to families at San Diego Unified feeding locations.

· San Diego Unified will more than triple the number of free food locations from 26 to 82 designated meal pick-up sites for the upcoming school year. Students or their parents/guardians who qualify for subsidized meals can drive through or walk up to receive breakfast and lunch, Monday through Friday, from 12 p.m. to 2 p.m. during the 2020-21 school year, which begins on Aug. 31.

Many students depend on school meals for daily nutrition. One of the first actions San Diego Unified took when schools closed in March was to ensure students still had access to meals. The district has provided more than 4 million meals to students at curbside grab n’ go locations since March.

As a result of the federal government’s decision to terminate the summer food program waivers:

* No meals will be distributed from Wednesday through Friday of this week, as schools prepare to transition away from the summer food program. In preparation for the change, San Diego Unified will provide extra meals on Monday, Aug. 24 and Tuesday, Aug. 25 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. to carry students through the week.

* Parents must provide proof of their students’ school of attendance in order to receive a meal on the first day of school. Proof could include: School Student ID, or the student ID/Password Information card received when he/she picked up a school Chromebook computer, or a paper with the child’s name, school and student ID number written in large and legible print.

“We have worked hard to develop a plan that makes it as easy as possible for students to continue receiving the meals they need,” said Gary Petill, Director of Food & Nutrition Services.