Now that much of the social spending for the pandemic is ending, a casualty is the program that paid school lunches for all kids. Before the pandemic the issue of lunch shaming was being openly discussed. My response to school lunches is simple:
Feed the kid.
There are many things my tax dollars go to that I don’t agree with. I have no issue with tax dollars going to feeding children while they are at school, even if the parents have the means to pay. It means one less thing for schools to keep track of. It also means schools don’t have the administration burden of processing the free lunch application. It is more efficient to simply make food for all the kids.
Even very young children are good at reading their caretaker’s emotions. They may not understand why money is an issue, but they can be very good at picking up that there is stress and worry over money. If the kids are aware their parents don’t have a lot of money, they might not always tell them they need lunch money.
Anyone who has taken care of kids that have not eaten yet know: hungry kids are cranky kids. They also don’t have the self awareness to say outright : “I am cranky because I am hungry.” Kids will have a much easier time doing what they are supposed to do in school—learning—if they have a full belly.
When kids are in school, the school is entrusted with their safety and well being. To me feeding the kids is a part of seeing to their well being. If the school doesn’t feed the kids, there isn’t another option if they didn’t bring a lunch from home. You can’t send school children to the streets of Minneapolis, tell them to forage for their lunch and to be back by the next bell.
Feed the kid.
I admit I have never been in dire enough financial straits to consider not feeding my child. However, if I was there are plenty of things I would cut before taking a bite from my child. I would go without food before I would force my child to go without food. I have a hard time believing a parent would let their child go hungry if they did have the money to pay the lunch bill.
True, narcissists exist. People who have no financial sense become parents. Pricks have kids at the same rate as everyone else. But while I acknowledge these people exist, I don’t see that as a reason to assume that all parents who don’t pay for their kid’s lunch is due to having the money and not wanting to pay the bill.
Feed the kid.
All the Conservative arguments about self-reliance to justify dismantling the social safety net to force people to work for shit wages so the employers can make more money are about the parent’s behavior. Bad behavior from the parent is not reason to deny a kid one of their basic needs as a human: food. The person being punished is the child, who is not responsible for their parent’s behavior. Being part of a society means accepting that some burdens are shared.
In the case of bad parental behavior—which I will say again while I acknowledge it exists I have a high amount of doubt that it represents a significant percentage of the times when parents don’t pay the lunch bill—there are probably other bad things going on at home. Feeding the kid at school gives them one less thing to worry about.
When parents simply don’t have the money to pay for their kid’s school lunch, and haven’t applied for free school lunches because they aren’t aware of the program or don’t know how to, which I am firmly of the opinion is the majority of cases, feeding the child gives the parents one less thing to worry about. Maybe that wiggle room of having the kid’s meals covered will allow them to cover their other expenses or an unexpected bill.
The only argument against providing school lunches to all children in public schools free of charge that I actually think has merit is giving schools another unfunded mandate. However, the pandemic proved that it could be done. It isn’t a lot of money compared to so many other government expenses, and for one it is a price I am happy to pay. The infrastructure to feed kids is already in place in every school, which makes this different from other new school mandates. It is simply a matter of covering the costs.
Feed all the children.