Child nutrition programs in Oklahoma will hold steady through March despite the government shutdown.
The United States Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Service office, which oversees the program, informed state departments Tuesday that the office will continue to provide funds for the next two months, ensuring students who receive free breakfast and lunch at school will continue to do so. Initially, the programs were only funded through January.
“We understand the uncertainty that these circumstances present for FNS customers and partners nationwide, and that program operators are concerned about the continued availability of funds to support program operations,” the department stated in a letter to state agencies.
The programs include the National School Lunch Program, the School Breakfast Program, the Special Milk Program, the Child and Adult Care Food Program, the Summer Food Program, the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program, and state administrative expenses. Many Carter County schools rely heavily on programs like these. Ardmore City Schools, for example, qualifies for all of its students to receive free lunch, and more than half of Dickson Public Schools’ students are on the program.
Matt Holder, deputy superintendent of finance and federal programs at the Oklahoma Department of Education, said his department works with the regional USDA office in Dallas. Holder said due to the shutdown, his office cannot stay in direct communication with the regional employees, who are furloughed.
“They have appropriated enough money to get us through the end of March,” Holder said. “As far as precedents and shutdowns, there is not any precedent that I or the staff here are aware of where this has been such a longterm shutdown that would cause a stop in services.”
Holder said under normal circumstances, the two offices are in daily contact with each other.
“They state that their staff has continued to be furloughed pending the reinstatement of funding by Congress,” Holder said. “Even us, trying to communicate with them and get any other information, that’s not happening.”
Holder said unlike the child nutrition program, programs funded through the US Department of Education like special education are largely unaffected by the shutdown, as funding for those programs was appropriated before the shutdown began.
“So, there’s no change in those as far as the school districts are concerned,” Holder said.
School districts began contacting the department early last week with questions that Holder and his staff did not have answers to until late Tuesday, when the USDA sent out letters to state agencies. The letter does not explain what steps were taken to secure the funding.
 “I was happy to see this letter come around, so there’s no immediate threat of us not receiving the funding through them,” Holder said.