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Summer Meal Program Goes Underused, Group Says

February 9, 1993

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Poor children who get low-cost or free meals at school often have less to eat during the summer because a federal meals program is underused, an advocacy group says.

Launching a public education campaign to increase participation in the Summer Food Service Program for Children, the Food Research and Action Center said only 1.9 million children used it last year.

The summer program cost $207 million in 1992, according to the Department of Agriculture, which runs it.

More than 12 million poor children take part in the USDA’s School Lunch Program, which receives more than $4 billion a year.

″When school closes for the summer, the cafeteria closes too,″ said Robert J. Fersh, executive director of the action center. ″Meanwhile, the development of children does not take a vacation.″

The group wants to raise participation by 500,000 children over the next few years. Children whose families earn 185 percent of the poverty level or less may take part, meaning a family of four can make up to $25,808 a year and qualify.

″This is a good program,″ said Phil Shanholtzer, a spokesman for USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service. ″We think more communities ought to use it.″

The enrollment formulas also keep out too many children, the group says.

Sponsors can include schools, units of government from the state on down, residential camps and private nonprofit organizations. Ideally, the programs would be coordinated with summer recreation programs, said Mike Haga, a field organizer for the center.

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