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The School Committee discusses the school food program on Wednesday evening.

Pittsfield Schools Also Concerned With Government Shutdown's Impact

By Andy McKeeveriBerkshires Staff
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PITTSFIELD, Mass. — North Adams isn't the only municipality worried that the government shutdown could lead to the end of the free lunch and breakfast program.
Assistant Superintendent Kristen Behnke reported Wednesday night that the schools have two months worth of savings in the bank account to keep the program going but if the shutdown continues, the program's funds would run dry. Behnke said the city has $774,000 to keep the program going but it costs $400,000 a month to run.
"It is a possibility we will not have the funding if the federal shutdown continues," Behnke said.
The program is funded through reimbursements by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The program is open to communities with a high percentage of low-income students and the city joined it in 2015. Behnke said in the month of November, 3,681 free lunches and 1,752 breakfasts were served.
"It is a program our students really rely on. We feed a lot of students," Behnke said.
Behnke said she received a letter saying the reimbursements would continue through March but it isn't clear whether that meant spending in March or the reimbursement in March for February spending. Behnke hopes for an interpretation and guidance from the state to further clarify. 
Should the shutdown continue, however, Superintendent Jason McCandless said the options are to start charging the students for meals or to find the money elsewhere and hope for reimbursement.
"We feel ethically we can't just put a date on the calendar and say well everybody we know you've been getting lunch and breakfast for no charge for the last two, three years, and on this date you have to pay," McCandless said, and later added, "We need to consider what our options are should this drag on to a longer stay."
The situation is not unlike North Adams. On Tuesday, the North Adams School Committee held a similar conversation. There the program is funded into March and officials in the county's other city are considering tapping into reserves. 
"This is one that could really hit communities that depend on this, schools that depend on this, and individuals and families that really depend on this could be hit hard," McCandless said.
McCandless said he doesn't know the full scale of how the shutdown impacts families in the city but he has "to assume we have individuals who are really suffering because of this." 
Beyond the lunch program, Behnke said nothing else is in immediate danger. The city does receive Title 1 funding for special education but Behnke said that is secured through June because of the way the state and the federal fiscal years align. However, should the shutdown continue that, too, could be in danger. 
The partial federal shutdown has been ongoing since late December and President Donald Trump had warned that it could last months. 

Tags: school lunch,   USDA,   

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