The School Nutrition Association has urged Congress and President Trump to end the partial shutdown of the federal government before a lapse in funding for school meal programs, which would hit states as soon as March.
The organization represents school cafeteria workers around the country, who help feed the 30 million children who eat meals through the National School Lunch and breakfast programs. Of those students, about 22 million eat free and reduced-price meals, which often serve as a key source of nutrition for children from low-income families.
“School meal programs operate on extremely tight budgets, and many lack reserve funds to continue serving students should federal funding lapse,” School Nutrition Association President Gay Anderson said in a statement. “School districts—especially those serving America’s neediest students—are simply not equipped to cover meal expenses without federal support.”
The U.S. Department of Agriculture, which has furloughed many workers as a result of the shutdown, responded to concerns from state agencies about school meals in a Jan. 8 letter.
“To address such concerns and ensure that programs can continue to operate without threat of disruption, [food and nutrition service] has provided State Agencies with additional available appropriated funding,” that letter said. “These funds, along with those previously provided, can support program operations at normal levels well into the month of March.”
As Education Week has reported previously, school meal programs often operate on very tight budgets that are separate from other district expenses. Such tight margins create challenges with issues like unpaid meals, and they would certainly make it difficult for schools to float meal expenses should money for federal reimbursements run out.
Education Week reporter Denisa Superville wrote about the shutdown’s effects on school meal programs and on schools as a whole:
It doesn't necessarily mean that children who rely on the food program will go hungry, said Noelle Ellerson Ng, the associate executive director for policy and advocacy at the AASA, the School Superintendents Association. "No superintendent is going to deny a child lunch," Ellerson Ng said. "What it means is that the superintendent is going to find money elsewhere, which means something else gets cut: maybe money for an afterschool program, maybe money for a summer program."
Photo: Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue eats lunch with elementary school students. USDA file photo.
Related reading on the government shutdown and schools:
A version of this news article first appeared in the Rules for Engagement blog.