How The Government Shutdown Puts School Lunch Programs At Risk
Schools across the country are bracing themselves for the potentially devastating repercussions that an ongoing government shutdown could have for students during lunchtime.
The National School Lunch Program (NSLC), a federally funded initiative that provides more than 30 million at-need youth with nutritious meals, could be at risk if the shutdown, now in its 28th day month and counting, continues.
This concern comes as USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue tweeted Friday that “child nutrition programs are funded quarterly and are fully funded through the end of March.” The USDA did not immediately reply to Fortune’s request for comment about what would happen to the Department of Agriculture-funded initiatives—which includes National School Lunch, School Breakfast, and Child & Adult Care Food Programs—if the shutdown goes past that point.
As the record-breaking federal shutdown—which President Donald Trump warns could last years without funding for a southern border wall—approaches its second month, North Carolina’s Vance School District informed district members in Facebook post that its lunch menus will be “revised to a minimum level to conserve food and funding” starting next week.
According to the post: “No fresh produce will be included, except at elementary schools as part of the Fresh Fruit & Vegetable Program. This program will be decreased to two days each week. No bottled drinks (water and juice) will be available after the current inventory in stock is used. No ice cream will be available.”
A local CBS affiliate reports that 90% of the students in Vance County qualify for free or reduced meals.
This isn’t the case for all districts. Tasha Oxendine, a spokeswoman for North Carolina’s Public Schools of Robeson County, told the Fayetteville Observer the district has “at least three months of fund balance through the end of the school year” and won’t be impacted by the federal shutdown at all unless it lasts into the summer.
Politico reports that some schools plan on dipping into their own funds to continue feeding their students what could be their only nutritious meal of the day, and experts reportedly predict that schools could start “turning down thermostats, limiting bus runs, dipping into building maintenance accounts and cutting after-school programming” to make room for food budgeting.
Poorer districts, however, are worried that they might run out of food without federal funding.
“I really don’t know how we’ll be able to continue feeding them without the meal reimbursements we get from the federal government, and I don’t know many other school food programs that would be able to either,” Brook Brubeck, the food service director at Kansas’ Prairie Hills district, told Politico . “It’s so frustrating and saddening. We just want to be able to feed kids.”
Food scarcity has impacted both children and adults. Furloughed government employees, ranging from TSA workers to FBI agents, have been using food banks to feed themselves and their children—some of whom might, for the first time, qualify for subsidized school lunches.