The School Lunch Program Probably Does More Harm Than Good

Predictably, the folks over at Crooks and Liars have a case of the vapors because Kate O’Beirne harshly criticized the school lunch program

I’m speechless. This little rant by Kate O’Beirne at a Republican strategy session is so evil, so incredibly cold-hearted, and so predictably right-wing that it makes me want to shove a big bowl of cereal and a big banana right down her chicken-hearted little gullet. Ebenezer Scrooge would be proud of his progeny.

O’BEIRNE: And then the title of our gathering is so crucial; “Less of Washington and More of Ourselves”. The federal school lunch program and now breakfast program and I guess in Washington DC, dinner program are pretty close to being sacred cows… broad bipartisan support. And if we’re going to ask more of ourselves, my question is what poor excuse for a parent can’t rustle up a bowl of cereal and a banana? I just don’t get why millions of school children qualify for school breakfasts unless we have a major wide spread problem with child neglect.

You know, I mean if that’s how many parents are incapable of pulling together a bowl of cereal and a banana, then we have problems that are way bigger than… that problem can’t be solved with a school breakfast, because we have parents who are just criminally… ah… criminally negligent with respect to raising children.

And yet, that’s the kind of program that has huge bipartisan support with very little thought about why we’re now feeding children. Talk about a fundamental parental responsibility. In what sense can we begin asking the “more of ourselves” piece to go with this less government?

Obviously she never met Jaelithe, who relied on the school lunch program to survive because her mother was young, single and poor, struggling to raise her daughter and get an education to better herself. Are these the words of an abused child, or just one raised in a world where the only outstretched hand was the government’s? Exactly what part of Jaelithe’s mother’s “self” should have given more?

There are no rational discussions about the school lunch program because the issue is so easy to demagogue. Any criticism of the program is instantly met with some variation of, “You’re so hard hearted that you want children to starve! Why, here’s an example of a child who can actually use the program. Do you want him to go hungry? How cruel!”

Happily, since I’m not running for office, I don’t have to feed people a line of horsecrap about this program. First, let me start out by noting that I largely agree with O’Beirne when she says,

You know, I mean if that’s how many parents are incapable of pulling together a bowl of cereal and a banana, then we have problems that are way bigger than… that problem can’t be solved with a school breakfast, because we have parents who are just criminally… ah… criminally negligent with respect to raising children.

Are there some exceptions to that? Good and decent, hard working parents, who through bad circumstances got put into a tough spot and can’t manage to scrape together even a small amount for their kids? Yes, people like that absolutely do exist. Moreover, if the school lunch program only helped people like that, you’d probably hear few complaints about it, even privately.

However, the fact of the matter is, in a world where we already have food stamps, welfare, and 99 weeks of jobless benefits, it seems very unlikely that there are a lot of parents out there who are doing the right thing and still can’t manage to feed their kids. Are there families where the mother is too drunk, crazy, strung out, or irresponsible to take care of her kid? Yes, but as O’Beirne noted, in cases like that, the kid unfortunately has a lot bigger problems than what he’s eating for breakfast in the morning.

Moreover, the overwhelming majority of kids getting the school lunch program don’t “need” it. Over a quarter of the children getting free/reduced food at school are qualifying because of fraud and this program is so overused that 58 percent of school lunches are “free or reduced price.” When more than half the kids in the school qualify for a lunch deal, you know taxpayers are getting ripped off — and for what? They don’t have these programs during the summer and guess what? Nobody starves to death. If these programs were killed tomorrow, the overall impact on 95% of the kids getting food would probably be zero.

But, what about that other 5%, you might say? This is where liberals and conservatives tend to look at the issue differently.

Even if liberals agreed that 95% of the money spent on the program was wasted, they’d believe it was worth it to spend somebody else’s money to fix the problem. It wouldn’t be worth spending their own money, of course. That’s crazy talk! But, if they can advocate spending tax dollars that are forcibly confiscated from other people to make themselves feel compassionate and caring, they’re happy to do it.

But, there’s nothing compassionate or generous about supporting the school lunch program. That’s because giving $10 of your own money to charity is far more compassionate and generous than wanting to spend a billion dollars of someone else’s money.

Also, here’s something else that liberals don’t care about: Building dependency. It’s okay for people to take charity — and make no mistake about it, that’s what the school lunch program is: charity. It’s okay for people to take charity, but only if they need it and feel ashamed of having to ask for it.

Being dependent on charity is a SHAMEFUL thing. It should be embarrassing. It should feel humiliating. It should make you feel bad. Know why? Because that motivates you to take care of yourself, so that you don’t falsely conclude that the world owes you a living. Show me a kid who’d rather go hungry than eat a free lunch and I’ll show you a kid who has been raised much better than a kid who thinks nothing of eating it.

This is hard for people to hear. NOBODY likes to think of someone who’s having a hard time in a life being made to feel worse. But, you know what’s far worse than someone feeling bad because he needs charity? Someone who can take charity without feeling guilty about it. If your attitude is, “Oh, everybody else owes me a living because I’m poor,” then you’re what people commonly refer to as “trash.”

We do have a personal obligation, as Christians, to help the poor. Also, because Americans are compassionate people, we tend to want to help the neediest among us. But “helping” too many people, too much, and expecting nothing in return, not even shame at having to receive charity, isn’t “helping.” To the contrary, it’s fostering dependency, which is more harmful to people than anything the government can dole out to them.

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