The Subsidized School Lunch Debacle

I got caught up in the discussion about schools withholding meals to children, specifically needy children, who do not have a current lunch account.  It is bad enough that we elect politicians set on cutting funding for school lunch programs, but once the lunch is there and more or less paid for, have we sunk so low that we will trash — literally trash it — for the sake of pennies unpaid?

"Every child Needs a Good School Lunch&qu...

To some extent all public school meals are subsidized by government.  Even better-off kids paying $2.00 a meal are not paying full cost.  The complaint is about children unable — or “unable” — to pay 40 cents, one fifth the standard subsidized rate in many schools.  It literally comes down to pennies.

First off, why are we charging these kids anything at all?  But that’s just me being me.  It costs a lot, I understand that.  According to most sources I found, school meal programs costs taxpayers nearly $16 billion to subsidize over 5 billion meals served annually to students, rich and poor, in the public school systems.  But depending on how you count it, the Federal Government subsidizes energy companies to the tune of $14 billion to $52 billion a year…and they’re making a health profit!  It is about priorities, I suppose.

We can escape the fact that we cherish and protect wealthy corporations more than children and the poor.  It is the American way.  So let’s say the kid owes 40 cents for his share of lunch and he doesn’t have it.  Who’s to blame?  That’s my “unable” above.  Should a child be personally responsible?  Is he to blame?

Unless he is a teenager pocketing his milk money, probably not.  So what kind of lesson could possibly be taught to a child who doesn’t get a meal because his lunch budget is broke?  And in the end, are we not better off if all the children are treated equally and all are fed?

I tried to find numbers on how much waste exists in school lunch programs generally.  If you believe some people, waste is rampant and built into the regulations of the system.   Others will tell you waste exists, but waste is more a matter of choice than law.  The truth is probably somewhere in between or a combination of all of above.  Who cares?  Let’s say a mere 10% of food prepared for students gets tossed out with the trash for whatever reason.  That’s a hefty sum, over a $1 billion in my simple math.  It’s probably more.

We know perfectly good food gets tossed out, after all…because that’s what the entire debate about kids being denied school lunches is all about!  Some schools report — actually report — throwing away food rather than giving it to a child because the kid cannot come up with 40 cents!  It is policy.

gty_child_hunger_130607_wmainRemember…we’re talking children, not scofflaws.  However, on the other side of town, scofflaws are doing quite well.

Your well-heeled resident on Park Avenue or similar enjoys a government subsidy in the form of a lower effective tax rates worth millions (or more) just because… well … I’m not really sure why, honestly.  But they are called tax subsidies for a reason.  Remember that when you hear complaints about school lunch subsidies.

Again, we need to ask, is the child to blame?  It is hard to see how.  And maybe the parents really don’t have the money in the first place.  Let me say that again…maybe the parents really don’t have the money.  Really.

Are we so petty to think that it is better to indoctrinate a hungry 8 year-old against the evils of so-called socialism than let the child eat a meal already prepared and essentially paid for?  Sadly, there are fools out there who think the answer is yes, and probably few of those have ever had to truly work his way from poverty.   The radio programs I heard today were full of people who at best could be offering “tough love” arguments for letting the children go hungry.  Unfortunately there were also many — too many — pumped up on a naive notion of self-importance that spewed little more than shallow meanness.

There are a lot of things wrong in this country today, but when we start undercutting the few forms of support the public gives to the most innocent, things have gone too far.  Rather than leave tens of thousands of American children without lunch because we supposedly cannot afford to feed them, let’s try instead another strategy.  Perhaps cut our war machine, cut our wealthy tax subsidies, or put an end to decades of policy that have ransacked the personal finances of millions of modest-income American families in the first place.

NB:  There are many strong resources online discussing hunger in the United States, including in depth discussion of schools and children.  When I learn how to post them in the links below, I’ll start adding them.  (It is a WordPress change I haven’t mastered yet.)

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