Most Clark County parents don’t pay the full price for their children’s meals at school. Some don’t pay at all. The federal government picks up the tab. Or it did until Tuesday.
The federal government reimburses the Clark County School District for daily feeding 186,410 poor students at either a reduced price or for free. But, as of Tuesday, the U.S. Department of Agriculture won’t be there to foot the bill, which averages $9 million a month for Clark County students receiving free or reduced-price meals.
The federal shutdown has cut off the USDA’s reimbursements and even its website. School districts nationwide are left to find a way to pay the cost of providing meals to their poorest students until the shutdown is over.
“Many of the students in this program do not eat if they don’t eat at school,” said Deputy Superintendent Kim Wooden, calling the federal program “critical” in a district where nearly 60 percent of the 315,000 students participate.
Clark County schools won’t start charging students whose families fall below a certain income level, which varies depending on family size.
A four-person household must earn less than $43,568 for reduced-price meals and $30,615 for free meals, according to USDA requirements. Normally, breakfast costs $1.25 at elementary schools and $1.50 at middle and high schools. Lunch costs $2 at elementary schools and $3.25 at secondary schools.
School officials are hoping the shutdown will last less than a month. As encouraged by the USDA, the district has kept an emergency fund in its food services department. The district will use that money to cover the cost of providing free and reduced-price meals.
“There will be no immediate threat,” Wooden said.
But the fund would run dry by November, district spokeswoman Melinda Malone said.
Even then, the district wouldn’t charge poor students for meals but would pull money from elsewhere in the district, Malone said.
Officials are banking on the USDA’s expectation that, once the shutdown is over, it will be able to reimburse districts for the meals it should’ve been paying for during its hiatus.
A letter Tuesday from the USDA to the district laid out as much.
Contact reporter Trevon Milliard at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0279.