The following post was written by Barry Sackin of Sackin & Associates.
26 Days and Counting...
As I write this post, the government is entering its fourth shutdown week. How does this impact school foodservice? First and foremost, school meals are an entitlement program, meaning they are not subject to appropriations - the funds are guaranteed. The problem is that that federal government cannot issue funds that are not already "in the bank” so to speak.
As you know, school meal programs are administered by the USDA and your state has likely received several months of funding for reimbursable meals already. In a memo from USDA dated January 8, they indicated that they have the ability to keep funds flowing to states into March. After that...they don't say. Ideally, your district would have sufficient resources in your accounts to keep serving kids beyond that with the understanding that the money will eventually be repaid.
On the other hand, there is a related area that should concern us. Most food, particularly proteins, are produced under some form of government inspection. USDA foods that are processed are subject to stringent inspection requirements. Right now, the inspectors are still working, but they are doing so without receiving their paychecks. It has been reported in the news that TSA agents are calling in sick
so they can work alternative jobs to pay their bills! If something similar happens with USDA inspectors - when the stocks on hand are depleted - our industry partners might not be able to produce the items you serve. That seems unlikely, but we don’t know how long the shutdown will last or how long government employees can go without pay.
Finally, except for “essential” personnel, our industry partners at USDA are furloughed. They are legally prohibited from doing their jobs. While this isn’t a problem (except for the furloughed employees) in the short term, it may be one in the not too distant future. And when they come back, they will have a backlog of tasks to complete.
Regardless of your view of the shutdown, we should all be hoping for a quick resolution before things get ugly. And, most of all, we are concerned about our friends at USDA who don’t know when they will be paid again.
As always, feel free to comment on this post with your questions, or contact me by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
About the author
Barry Sackin is a school foodservice veteran of more than 35 years. Barry started his career on staff at San Diego Unified School District in 1980. Barry was a director of large districts for several years, at one point overseeing two districts with more than 70 sites and nearly 45,000 students. While serving on the SNA Board of Directors, Barry was asked to join the staff as VP of Public Policy and has since worked on child nutrition policy for the past 20 years.