MSNBC recently reported on the new school lunch Community Eligibility Option which allows entire schools to eat on free lunch, regardless of the individual student’s family income. It essentially works as follows:
Schools qualify for community eligibility when over 40% of their students are “Identified Students,” meaning they automatically qualify for free lunch because they’re homeless, in foster care, enrolled in Head Start, or live in households which receive certain kinds of federal assistance, such as food stamps. If a school meets that threshold, then it can bypass the whole process by which individual parents apply for their children to receive free meals. Instead, the federal government subsidizes free meals for the entire student population.
So while there is generally no such thing as a free lunch, there is free lunch if you cobble enough poor kids together – and what else can you do with poor kids besides cobble them together? The program has some obvious benefits. Schools don’t have to spend time registering kids who are more than likely poor anyway. Kids get to avoid the potential embarrassment of being on free lunch since everyone is on free lunch. And perhaps most importantly, you get to provide lunches to kids whose parents were too lazy to fill out a form so that they don’t starve.
The problem with this bill is it misidentifies the problem. It is characterized as a response to a “hunger crisis,” even though it has little to do with actual availability of school lunches. The lunches are already free to those who need it. The parents just have to fill out a form, and they don’t. What we have is a parenting crisis. But even calling it that is giving the situation too much credit. You don’t need to be a parent to take two minutes out of your day to fill out a form so a child can eat – you just have to be a human being. But you can’t have a headline that states “Congress Passes Law To Combat Shitty Human Beings.” People who read the news hate nothing more than the truth. They read the news so they can reinforce what they already think, so instead we get sentences like this:
The food security safety net is fraying to the breaking point.
Which begs the question – what in God’s name is food security? And why does it have a safety net? And are we sure the net isn’t fraying because it’s holding up all of our fat, sticky children covered in taffee and corn syrup?
That’s what’s so disingenuous about the article. Our kids are fat, food is cheap, and if you’re poor it’s free. In the United States, food security should refer to the lock we put on the fridge to keep obese toddlers from waddling over to the kitchen and eating themselves into giant globes we have to roll to kindergarten. If you’re in the U.S. and you can’t get fat, then congratulations, you’re a model and you’re going to have a great life doing coke and dating Fez from That 70’s Show.
Don’t misunderstand, it’s a good idea for the government to spend the $1.43 on a mystery-meat-pasta-soup lunch for a hungry kid – even if he just dumps it in the trash so he can go to recess and play kickball (as kids in my school were wont to do). But we’re never going to improve upon our problems unless we actually address them. That’s why this new bill should be called the “A lot of poor parents are too lazy to check a box so their kid can eat food so now rich kids are getting free lunch too” act. It’s a mouthful, but it’s the only way we can give kids a mouthful of food while giving parents a mouthful of well deserved shame.