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To Fight Students' 'Summer Hunger,' Sen. Murray Pushes Debit Cards For Lunches

Gabriel Spitzer
Sen. Patty Murray wants to give families debit cards to help feed qualifying students in the summer.

With summer approaching, families who rely on school lunches have to make plans for how to fill the gap. United States Sen. Patty Murray says the answer is to subsidize their grocery shopping.

There’s already a big federal program – the Summer Food Service Program – to serve lunches to kids who qualify for food subsidies. Speaking at a Central Area elementary school, Washington's senior senator said those programs can be hard to access, as families have to bring their kids to designated locations during certain hours. Her office said just 10 percent of Washington children participated in 2012.

Sen. Murray wants to put a debit card in the hands of each of those families that they can use to buy food, much as one would use food stamps.

That would help parents like Darasanvanh Kommavongsa, mother of two daughters, who said it’s a constant battle to keep her kids fed in the summer.

“We had to use a lot of the food banks. And tagging along your children is really, really difficult because when they're hungry they're not going to cooperate with you. Especially when their stomach is growling and burning from not having any nutrition,” she said.

Each debit card would be loaded with about $60 a month. The entire program would cost nearly $42 billion over 10 years, which Murray said she’d pay for by closing a corporate tax loophole.

The Republican-led House of Representatives will likely be cool to the idea. Just months ago the House voted to cut billions from the federal food stamp program.

Gabriel Spitzer is a former KNKX reporter, producer and host who covered science and health and worked on the show Sound Effect.