In wake of shutdown, Berkeley school district reminds families of free school meals

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In a Jan. 18 email issued by the Berkeley Unified School District, or BUSD, families impacted by the nationwide government shutdown were reminded of their eligibility to apply for free or reduced-price school breakfast and lunch.

The current federal government shutdown has furloughed or caused about 800,000 workers across the United States to work without pay. Students with family members whose incomes are impacted by the shutdown may qualify for meals provided at no cost by BUSD through the Free and Reduced Lunch program.

BUSD emailed families to remind them about the program in case families see a change in income as a result of the shutdown, said BUSD spokesperson Charles Burress in an email.

“We are simply reminding families that if they have a change in income (due to the shutdown) they can apply for free meals,” Burress said in an email. “Families may apply any time there is a change in their income.”

Families that believe they qualify for this program can check the income eligibility guidelines and apply though their school or district by filling out a school meal application, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, or USDA, Food and Nutrition Service, or FNS, website.

Current recipients of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits and recipients of other federal assistance programs do not need to fill out an application, according to the USDA FNS website.

There have been no new applications from BUSD, Burress said in an email. He added that it was “too early” to tell if the subsidies would help, but that other efforts, such as food pantries, are in effect at BUSD schools.

School board member Julie Sinai said that while she is not aware of the district’s number of federal workers, the federal shutdown poses a possible long-term threat to subsidies such as the Free and Reduced Lunch program.

“I think that in the long term, if this doesn’t get resolved, there could be ramifications on some of the subsidies our families receive, but at this point, we’re not seeing a direct impact,” Sinai said. “The impact right now has to do more with the threat of holding the government hostage for a wall. … If the shutdown goes on indefinitely, there’s a threat to subsidies as things get shakier.”

Workers affected by the shutdown can apply for unemployment benefits through the state, said City Councilmember Rashi Kesarwani in an email. She said in the email that she hopes everyone impacted will seek assistance.

“I personally know a federal worker who lives in Berkeley who has not received a paycheck since the government shutdown began,” Kesarwani said in the email. “My heart breaks for all of our Berkeley families adversely impacted by this situation.”

Contact Alexa VanHooser and Alexandra Stassinopoulos at [email protected].