Free meals to students will be served even if agreement on shutdown isn’t reached soon

The U.S. Department of Agriculture notified states on Friday that the free and reduced meals served to students will continue to be served “for several months,” even if Congress fails to reach an agreement on the government shutdown.

Cynthia Long, the director of the Child Nutrition Division, sent a letter (which included a Q&A) to state agencies that are reimbursed for breakfast and lunches provided to students whose low-income families qualify for the subsidized meals.

Long said in the letter that the USDA made fiscal year 2013 “carryover funds” available to reimburse states for meals served in October. She said program operators had expressed concern about how services that would be provided in late October would be impacted “if appropriations are not enacted soon.”

“USDA has determined that additional funding is currently available, and is sufficient to support program activity for several months in FY 2014,” Long wrote. “This funding is provided through a permanent appropriation supporting the Child Nutrition programs, and its availability to support Child Nutrition program obligations does not depend on further action by Congress.”

In Maryland, 44 percent of the student enrollment received free and reduced meals last year, according to the Annie E. Casey Foundation. About 40 percent of students in Virginia received subsidized meals last year and 72 percent of students in the District received free meals in 2012, the foundation data shows.

Long also answered another question that states have asked: “Can households of furloughed employees be approved for free or reduced price school meal benefits? Should they be removed from the program when the furlough is over?”

Long said eligibility is based on annual income. “While there is no prohibition on households with furloughed employees applying for benefits during a furlough, school food authorities (SFAs) should manage the application process in a manner which reflects their unique circumstances,” Long wrote.

“During the furlough period, these households may not have information on the duration of the furlough or its ultimate impact on household income. Therefore, it is reasonable for SFAs to remind households that free or reduced price eligibility is intended to reflect actual annual income. School districts should urge any families who are approved for free or reduced-price meals based on their reduced income during a furlough period to terminate their free/reduced price status should the economic hardship they had anticipated due to the furlough be remedied by a return to work and/or restoration of pay for the furlough period.”

Ovetta Wiggins writes about K-12 education.
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