School Lunch Programs a Casualty of Government Shutdown Mess 

"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."

School lunch and breakfast programs are reimbursed by the federal government after the end of the service month and,at least for now, the Boise school district has a Plan B.

"We have three months of a fund balance and, hopefully, we should be fine," Hollar said.

But things aren't as flush in Eastern Idaho. For example, officials in the Pocatello school district told KIDK-TV that they had no backup funds available and has already racked up about $8,000 in school meals that the district has yet to be paid for.

"We don't have any idea what may happen if the shutdown goes further or if it affects funding for November,” said Pocatello School Superintendent Mary Vagner.

Meanwhile in North Idaho, officials in the Coeur d'Alene school district says their district hasn't even been fully paid for September. Coeur d'Alene school district's Chief Operating Officer Wendell Wardell told the Coeur d'Alene Press that he thinks payments aren't flowing because there are no federal workers available to process them.

Wardell added that he told Coeur d'Alene trustees that if federal funds dry up for an extended period of time, the district administration would likely have to ask the board for permission to use its restricted contingency reserves to continue funding programs.

It's estimated that the U.S. Department of Education has furloughed nearly all but 242 of its 4,225 employees.

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