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School lunch program in jeopardy amidst shutdown

Reported by: Tyler Hill
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Updated: 10/15/2013 8:40 pm
BOONEVILLE, Miss. (WTVA) - Over two weeks of the federal government shutdown has passed, and as days go on, funding for certain federal programs are called into question.

One program that many have questioned is the free and reduced meal program provided by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

At the end of every month, schools across the country are reimbursed for the program.

The USDA said, at this point, there are funds left over from fiscal year 2013 to fund the next few months, however, there are still a few concerns as the shutdown continues.

"Well, we're just taking a 'wait and see' attitude," said Booneville School District Food Director Brenda Massey. "We just take it one day at a time."

She said nearly 61 percent of students in her school district receive free or reduced lunches.

"For a lot of those children, this is the best meal they get of the day," Massey said.

But the program will be in jeopardy if the shutdown continues into the next few months.

"If this does go on, it will affect us," Massey said.

Massey said it won't be long until those fund dry up, and the burden will fall on the school districts.

"We would have to buy everything, versus getting 50 percent of it through the USDA, which is much cheaper," Massey explained.

Not only does the shutdown leave uncertainty for the meal program, but the reimbursement from the federal government is what pays the cafeteria workers, which begs the question, "What will happen to those workers?"

Anderson Elementary Cafeteria Manager Debbie Wright said, "I guess we would lose our jobs."

"We would have a lot of hungry kids I guess," Wright continued.

But Massey said, if it came down to furloughed cafeteria workers, then the burden would once again be on the school district and the state to pay the workers.

Massey said the state department remains optimistic, and she said nothing will stop them from feeding the children.

"They [state department] think they'll probably have the money to pay the claims and the reimbursements," Massey said. "That's what we're hoping for."

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