School Lunch Programs a Casualty of Government Shutdown Mess

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“We don’t have any idea what may happen if the shutdown goes further or if it affects funding for November.”

While Idaho’s congressional delegation join their House and Senate peers in debating who is to blame for the shutdown of much of the U.S. government, the repercussions of the stalemate are inching closer and closer to home.

Here’s a question: What happens to kids from low-income homes who access free or reduced/cost school lunches?

Last year, more than 5 billion lunches were served to more than 31 million students in the U.S. through Federal School Nutrition Programs. Today, funding for the programs totals more than $16 billion in cash and commodity payments to schools.

Currently in the Boise School District, 11,442 students access free or reduced cost school meals.

During the 2012-13 school year, 127,691 Idaho school children participated in free or reduced lunch programs; 10,310 in the Meridian school district, 8,992 in Nampa and 5,108 in Caldwell.

“We’ve been told that any meal that we served in September would be federally reimbursed,” Dan Hollar, spokesman for the Boise Independent School District, told Boise Weekly. “Beyond that, it’s unknown.”

And it’s nearly impossible to get any answers.

“Many Food and Nutrition Service staff will be furloughed pending reinstatement of funding by Congress,” read an Oct. 1 letter from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to school districts. “These staff will not be available by phone or email, and cannot carry out work for the agency, until funding is restored.”