In response to the coronavirus pandemic, the buildings at Mashpee Public Schools have been closed. So too are the cafeterias in those buildings, where food-insecure students were able to obtain subsidized lunches.
The Mashpee schools have stepped up, as have so many individuals, organizations and companies in America during this awful time. They have continued to provide lunches on a “to-go” basis to these students.
But the money to support the program has to come from somewhere.
Under normal circumstances, the state provides monthly reimbursements to Mashpee’s school lunch program to help pay for students who receive free or reduced-price lunches.
Earlier this month, however, the business manager of the Mashpee schools, Paul Funk, informed the school committee that the program, receiving lower state reimbursements than normal, already had reached a deficit of more than $100,000.
That deficit could rise well above $200,000 by the end of the school year.
Mr. Funk does expect some state reimbursement will be coming Mashpee’s way for the program deficit, though he is uncertain how much money will come in.
The business manager said whatever deficit remains will need to be addressed by the end of the fiscal year, which is June 30. He plans to come up with a plan to cover any deficit within the current year’s school budget.
Deficits are rarely good news, regardless of the circumstances in which they arise.
But the overriding good news is that children in Mashpee are being fed.
That hasn’t been the case for the past couple months in too much of America.
The New York Times reported this week that a federal program created in response to the coronavirus to feed 30 million children facing hunger had reached, as of May 15, only 15 percent of those eligible.
The best intentions of the program, the Times reported, had run aground on unforeseen glitches.
According to Duke Storen, who leads the Virginia Department of Social Services, “The intent is to replace lost meals at school, but the meals have been lost for months, and few benefits have gone out.” Among those feeling the pinch of closed schools, the Times reports, is Melynda Baker, a Walgreens cashier in Tyler, Texas, whose boys are 15 and 12. Though the schools offer grab-and-go meals, Ms. Baker works during the pickup time and her disabled husband does not drive. That has left her replacing 20 weekly meals—five breakfasts and five lunches. The newspaper reports that she and her husband feed their sons first, pretending to be distracted while the boys grab seconds. “We’ll say, ‘Oh, there’s plenty left,’ and then eat a bologna sandwich later,” she said. But the older one caught on. “He’s like, ‘No, Mom, I’m full,’ when I know he’s not.” For such a wealthy nation to have any child in hunger at all, even in the midst of a pandemic, is unconscionable. Mashpee deserves credit for taking the initiative, on its own, to continue the subsidized lunch program. Further, for the fiscally minded, the chance of a school budget overrun stemming from the program deficit is unlikely. If some revenues are down because of the coronavirus, so too are expenses such as transportation and utility costs. School officials have the flexibility to move money around as needed.
Meanwhile, the Mashpee schools are spending money where and when it is needed. Compassion is worth funding.