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Monday, March 30, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Despite shutdown, funds still available for school lunch programs

UPDATED: Tue., Jan. 15, 2019

In this Friday, May 19, 2017 file photo, students line up for lunch at a middle school in Sandy, Utah. At least for now,  schoolchildren from low-income families in Spokane and the rest of the nation won’t be going hungry because of the partial shutdown of the federal government. (Laura Seitz / AP)
In this Friday, May 19, 2017 file photo, students line up for lunch at a middle school in Sandy, Utah. At least for now, schoolchildren from low-income families in Spokane and the rest of the nation won’t be going hungry because of the partial shutdown of the federal government. (Laura Seitz / AP)

At least for now, schoolchildren from low-income families in Spokane and the rest of the nation won’t be going hungry because of the partial shutdown of the federal government.

However, school districts may have to find emergency funds should the shutdown last beyond March.

The National School Lunch Program, which is administered through the U.S. Department of Agriculture and serves about 35 million children annually, has enough for reimbursements through March.

“It’s unlikely that we would have to curtail serving those meals,” Doug Wordell, director of nutrition services for Spokane Public Schools, said Monday.

At the same time, families facing changed financial circumstances – including furloughs related to the shutdown – may apply for free and reduced-priced lunches and breakfasts.

“They can apply anytime during the school year, and we would encourage anyone to apply,” Wordell said.

“Plus, it’s a great program, it helps stretch the budget, and for the students it’s a meal they would enjoy,” Wordell said.

Wordell would know how important food help can be. Raised in Spokane with three siblings by a single mother, he recalls being “grateful for what we had and I was more than happy waiting in line for a 5-pound block of cheese.”

The process is easier these days, and the two-page form can be completed online.

“It’s all handled confidentially,” Wordell said.

The district hasn’t seen a surge of applications, though Wordell recently received a call from a concerned grandmother “who wanted to make sure” the free and reduced-price meals were still available.

Each day, the district serves about 16,700 lunches and 8,500 breakfasts, of which about 70 percent are free or reduced-price. However, Wordell noted that even those meals paid for by families are partially subsidized by the federal government.

Nationally, officials aren’t alarmed by possible effects of the shutdown.

It doesn’t necessarily mean that children who rely on the food program will go hungry, said Noelle Ellerson Ng, associate executive director for policy and advocacy at the AASA, the School Superintendents Association.

“No superintendent is going to deny a child lunch,” said Ellerson Ng. “What it means is that the superintendent is going to find money elsewhere, which means something else gets cut: maybe money for an after-school program, maybe money for a summer program.”

Districts may also have to use emergency funds to come up with the money if the shutdown goes beyond March, said Jeff Simering, director of legislative services at the Council of the Great City Schools, a Washington-based organization that represents 74 of the nation’s largest school districts.

Likewise, other federally backed programs – such as Title 1, which goes to schools serving large numbers of students in poverty, IDEA for special education and Head Start – are overseen by agencies that are currently funded.

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