Society and Culture
GOP to Hungry Kids: You Don’t Work Hard Enough
Happy Thursday, folks! You’re almost there. Breathe with me. Friday’s coming.
In the meantime, let’s get to our biweekly session of bitching about the GOP, shall we? Today, we’re talking about school lunches. And poor kids. And how Rep. Jack Kingston of Georgia is a gigantic asshole.
Here’s what happened. Across the nation, kids from families whose income levels are below 130 percent of the poverty line can receive free school lunches. Kids from families with income levels between 130 and 185 percent of the federal poverty line are eligible for reduced lunch prices. This is news to no one.
Trust me on this. My awesome wife teaches in Newark, one of the poorest cities in New Jersey. Literally all of the kids at her school get free lunch. Free lunch for low income kids is nothing new.
Anyway! Rep. Kingston decided to make news out of something that’s not new — a common talent for many GOP rainmakers. This week, he went on the record saying that poor kids should NOT get free lunch — oh no! The blasphemy!
Instead, he made the following suggestions:
“Why don’t we have the kids pay a dime, pay a nickel to instill in them that there is, in fact, no such thing as a free lunch? Or maybe sweep the floor of the cafeteria — and yes, I understand that that would be an administrative problem, and I understand that it would probably lose you money. But think what we would gain as a society in getting people — getting the myth out of their head that there is such a thing as a free lunch.”
Oh my gosh I CAN’T. I cannot. What are you doing, Rep. Kingston? Really.
Let’s start with the first and most obvious issue with your solution to a non-problem: children are not possessors of money. They don’t work. That’s what being a child means. So, really, they all get free lunches. Every single one of them. Even the richest of rich kids are getting a free lunch. Because it’s not their money that paid for it. It’s their parents’ money.
Take me for example. I was a solidly middle-class child. My parents, being the health nuts that they are, were not big fans of the idea of me eating mystery meat in my elementary school cafeteria. So, every day, they dutifully packed me a brown bag lunch. I got a peanut butter and jelly sandwich on whole wheat bread and a handful of cookies, virtually every single day. For me, that lunch was free.
I didn’t pay for it. I didn’t even know that food cost money. Or that when my parents went to work, they were paid in money. I kind of just thought working was a thing that grownups had to do — the same way kids had to go to school — and all of the other stuff like food and housing was just magically bestowed upon people who followed the rules.
Clearly, I was a naïve child.
But! There was a kernel of truth in my naivety. For me, food really didn’t cost money. It just appeared in my brown bag every day, as if by magic. Nowadays, as a precariously middle-class adult who has to purchase food before it lands in my brown bag (I’m still packing a whole wheat PB&J for work, I’ll admit it), I’m fully aware that food was free when I was a kid.
I’m even more aware of it when my now gray-haired parents take me out for lunch.
Anyway! All children get free lunch. They aren’t working the night-shift to pay for their sandwiches. So, your argument is already inherently flawed, Rep. Kingston.
Moving right along. What is this obsession with punishing poor people for being poor? Seriously. The GOP is fixated on it. When you suggest forcing children to sweep the floors in order to earn their lunch, you’re talking about child labor. That’s bad enough, but when you’re only suggesting the poor kids participate, you’re talking about a caste system.
You’re talking about a world where rich kids learn early on that only certain people sweep floors. Namely, not them. You’re teaching them that someone else will always clean up after them. Someone else will always have to beg for their scraps.
And, you’re teaching the poor kids that they’re the ones who need to beg for those scraps. Because of the social standing of their family — which they have zero control over — poor kids will understand themselves to be inherently less than. That’s a traumatic and debilitating lesson to learn at such a formative age.
Finally, there’s the looming issue at hand — the solution that Rep. Kingston is obviously hinting at, but isn’t explicitly articulating.
He’s saying that it would be better if these kids didn’t get a free school lunch at all. If we HAVE to give it to them, at least make them work for it, he’s saying. But really, his best case scenario is equally expensive lunches for all.
Where my wife teaches, all of the students qualify for free lunch. Every single one of them. These kids are poor. They don’t have the luxury to grow up naïve like I did. They know food costs money because they don’t have any of it. As in, neither food nor money.
For many of her kids, lunch is the only meal they eat. They hardly eat at all on weekends. Why? Because they’re poor. They can’t afford food. And the little food they do have at home, they give to their baby brothers and sisters.
My wife’s students are good kids. They’re smart and loving and talented, and hysterically funny. And they deserve to fucking eat.
So, Rep. Kingston? Shut the fuck up.
Stop talking about child labor, and a (not really) new caste system, and the idea that poor kids shouldn’t be fed lunch on the school’s dime. Stop talking out of your ass, and start feeding some children.
Hannah R. Winsten (@HannahRWinsten) is a freelance copywriter, marketing consultant, and blogger living in New York’s sixth borough. She hates tweeting but does it anyway. She aspires to be the next Rachel Maddow.
Featured image courtesy of [Philippe Put via Flickr]