She spoke following news today (30 March) that funding for Healthy Happy Minds, the Engage programme, and the School Holiday Food Grant (SHFG) is being cut by the Education Authority as the Department of Education remains without a budget allocation, forcing them to cease operation.
The SHFG in particular provides over 100,000 families with grants in place of free school meals over holiday periods.
The North Down MLA has said: “It cannot be overstated just how devastating this decision is for our community.
“So many children and young people and their families depend on provision for free school dinners, and it can even mean the difference between a child getting a hot meal that day or not. The need for that simply does not end when the holidays begin, and the SHFG is equally as vital.
“With the impact of the cost of living crisis still hitting hard, especially for those already in financial hardship, the need for this scheme is even more apparent.
“The SHFG, Healthy Happy Minds, and Engage have all played a key role in improving young peoples’ quality of life here, as well as their general chances later in life, and it’s just disgraceful that all that amazing work is being sacrificed on the pyre of budgetary uncertainty and political dysfunction.
“Alliance have long since been champions for these schemes and tackling the issues they aim to address, and have engaged with the EA and the DoE consistently and robustly in terms of ensuring funding for them.
“To have been left in this position of indefinite limbo without an Executive, without ministers, and without a budget due to the party-political interests of one party is galling and should not be allowed to continue.
“Vulnerable children and young people must not be allowed to go hungry or without vital resources and support. We’re urgently calling upon those with the power to do so to do the right thing and get back into Stormont, so a budget can be set and this and other pressing issues can be addressed.
“Going forward though, we must also look towards reform of our institutions, so Northern Ireland can never again be held to ransom like this.”