Howard County schools are offering to help feed children of families affected by the federal government shutdown.
This week the school system said families that have lost pay due to the shutdown can immediately apply to the system’s free and reduced meals program — or FARMs.
"No child should go hungry and no parent should fear their child will not eat because they cannot afford to pay for meals during this government shutdown period," Schools Superintendent Michael Martirano said in a statement.
Families that apply will be notified within 24 to 48 hours if they are eligible. Even if they do not normally qualify for the free meals, a family “could be eligible for the remainder of the school year because of the current loss of income,” the system said.
Families, including those not in the FARMs program, have until the end of the school year to pay off any meals balances incurred during the shutdown.
The partial government shutdown is in its 19th day as of Wednesday. One-quarter of the government and nearly 800,000 employees are furloughed, or working without pay.
County Executive Calvin Ball sent a letter Dec. 31 to federal lawmakers and President Trump urging them to find a bipartisan solution to end the shutdown, and last week he announced the county would not enforce water service shutoffs for payment issues during the shutdown.
Officials say Howard County is home to some 50,000 workers whose jobs are connected to the federal government, either as direct employees or contractors.
Martirano encouraged school families to take advantage of county resources and contact their child’s school principal with questions.
"The shutdown of the federal government has caused financial insecurity for so many of our friends and neighbors and undue stress and anxiety on their children,” Martirano said.
Howard schools have offered free meals during the summer vacation for years, and most recently expanded its program to offer free lunch during winter break. Nearly a quarter of Howard’s 58,000 student population are enrolled in the FARMs program, according to a county schools spokesman.