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Howard County schools' free meal enrollment spikes during federal government shutdown

Howard County public schools’ free and reduced meals program, or FARMs, saw a 50 percent increase of applications during the federal government shutdown, according to school system data.

The system took action amid the partial federal government shutdown by allowing families that have lost pay due to the shutdown to immediately apply for the FARMs program so their children could be fed during the school day.

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Between Jan. 8 and Jan. 25, the school system processed 365 applications, averaging 122 per week.

In the four weeks prior to Jan. 8, the school system processed an average of 61 applications each week.

Nearly 25 percent of Howard County’s 58,000 student population are enrolled in the FARMs program, according to a county schools spokesman.

The partial government shutdown lasted 35 days and affected about one-quarter of the government. Officials estimated that, nationwide, nearly 800,000 employees were furloughed, or worked without pay.

Howard officials say an estimated 19,500 federal workers reside in the county and about 11 percent of county workers, including contractors, were directly impacted by the shutdown.

County Executive Calvin Ball directed county departments this week to continue offering the special programs and services to county residents affected by the shutdown despite the government being back open.

“Just because these people are going back to work doesn’t mean their suffering has stopped,” Ball said in a news release. “They missed two paychecks and it will take them a while to get caught up and back on their feet.”

The Howard County Food Bank reported it served an additional 25 families during the shutdown.

Ball placed a moratorium on residential water shutoffs. In addition, the county library system suspended library fines and fees. Howard Community College offered one-on-one counseling to students.

The Department of Community Resources and Services provided a weekly special food distribution to impacted employees and contractors. The weekly food distribution will end, but families with continuing needs may contact the department at 410-313-6400, or the food bank at 410-313-6185.

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