Drama Over Free Lunches
Monday night, Keith Olbermann designated Missouri state Rep. Cynthia Davis as his “Worst Person in the World,” while labeling Missouri voters as “idiots” and “buffoons.” What raised Olbermann’s ire enough to place Davis at the same level he’s used for brutal dictators? Davis wants to cut back on free lunches to poor children over the summer, especially for children over 16. The state spends about $5.80 per child per day for a free lunch and breakfast, but Davis has said she thinks that kids at age 16 should get jobs and work to pay for their own lunches. Olbermann attacked her lack of compassion and called her an “inhuman monster.”
Granted, Davis went about addressing the issue clumsily, saying, “Hunger can be a powerful motivator.” She does, however, make a valid point (which went unmentioned on blogs and in the Post-Dispatch) that parents still receive the same amount of food stamps even if their kids are receiving free food from other government programs, and that it should be the parents’ job — not the state’s — to teach children about nutrition. She also suggests that funds might be better spent in an effort to teach parents the value of nutrition so that they can instill this knowledge in their children at home, rather basing such programs in schools.
It appears that Davis wants to reduce government welfare spending, but this may not have been the best issue to tackle. At least, she could have attempted to formulate a more elegant argument. Considering that the state spent $7 billion on primary and secondary education in 2006, the $10 million cost of the school lunch program is small potato chips. Davis tries argue against unencumbered welfare expansion, but with a few minced words she destroyed what should have been a powerful message.
Decreasing the state’s dependence on welfare programs is a worthwhile priority, but starting with children’s programs is not likely to garner positive attention. There are, however, other ideas that could work as more pragmatic solutions to combat welfare expansion: Charles Murray, of the American Enterprise Institute, argues that every American adult should be given $10,000 per year ($3,000 of which must be used on health insurance — one appealing alternative to the health care reform proposals currently in vogue), and that welfare programs should simultaneously be eliminated. By giving people an option (and money to use), Murray’s plan would put decision-making in the hands of individuals. At this point though, it’s important for Missourians to look at what can be done to reduce welfare expansion gradually within the state, without focusing first on cutting the type of programs that lead to being demonized and dismissed.
One could argue that the program’s $10 million budget should not be spent by the government at all, but if the government is going to spend the money (and it will), it’s probably better that it feed poor children than for it to become another drop in Metro’s leaky budget or any other economy-draining public program.