Shutdown underscores concerns for school lunch funding

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The government shutdown is now over, but it surfaced concerns for schools that rely on federal funding to feed students -- including in Yonkers, where the school district offers free breakfast and lunch districtwide.

At Martin Luther King Jr. Academy in Yonkers, every one of the 560 students in the low-income school stay nourished thanks to federal funds from the Department of Agriculture. According to Principal Natalie Davy, the government meal program is especially crucial for 88 percent of the students who can't even afford a meal on their own.

"Not eating, the food deficiency affects so many areas of one's life -- lack of concentration, immune system, illnesses," Davy says.

The meal balance runs out in March. It will continue as long as the government remains open, but otherwise school leaders question how they'd feed their children.

"It's a real fear because unfortunately, schools around the country, the meals they eat at school might be the only meals they eat during that day," says Cherise Tafe, director of Food Services at Yonkers Schools.

As much as the school district relies on the meal program, there is a contingency plan in place should the funds run out in the spring.

"We are prepared unfortunately to do smaller portions, still be compliant with all USDA rules and regulations and guidelines," Tafe says. "We would change up the menu based on what we have in our warehouses, based on what each individual school has."

The district says it also works with agencies like the Food Bank of Westchester for extra food supplies.

President Donald Trump and congressional leaders struck a deal Friday to end the shutdown after 35 days. The House and Senate quickly passed the measure, and Trump signed it Friday night.

But the deal to end the shutdown only funds the government for three weeks as negotiations continue on border security. President Trump warned Friday that another shutdown is possible if a tenable deal isn't struck for a barrier along the US-Mexico border.

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