No Free Lunches, Especially for the Poor Kids

Republican Representative Jack Kingston has received a lot of backlash as of this morning, and not surprisingly so. The Georgia Representative has proposed that we take the saying “no free lunches” to a whole new level and strictly enforce it on this nation’s younger generations. He proposed on Saturday that low-income children should “pay” for their subsidized meals in school through the act of manual labor.

The current federal school lunch program provides free meals to children that come from families with incomes at or below 130 percent of the poverty line, and reduced priced meals to children from families with incomes between 130 percent and 185 percent of the poverty level. So where is Kingston’s logic coming from? I personally don’t really know, but he claims that he wants to instill in America’s youth that there is no such thing as a free lunch, meaning that even the poorest students should be expected to pay a nominal amount for their food or perform some manual labor such as cleaning the cafeteria floors.

The sad thing is, Kingston is not the first looney toon from our government to propose such an idea. Back in 2011, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich stated that schools should simply fire the janitors in low-income neighborhoods and utilize the student population to clean the school instead. Not only is that counterproductive (as you wind up creating higher unemployment in those neighborhoods and creating even more problems as I’m sure those janitors have families they need to provide food for as well, it’s also a tad barbaric and maybe even a little inhumane). I would love to ask Newt if he truly understands what public school custodians actually have to do for a living. On the surface, he made it seem like an easy policy – reduce poverty, let kids have pride in their schools, and build a work ethic amongst students. However, what Gingrich (and I’m sure Kingston) are failing to realize is that custodial work is not that middle school punishment of “garbage duty,” but instead most janitors are involved in handling hazardous cleaning chemicals, performing electrical repairs and plumbing fixes, and are also in charge of the school’s heating system, among other things. And yet somehow Gingrich wanted children as young as nine years old to handle these tasks. I see he really thought this plan through.

But going back to Kingston, the fact that he wants to promote a work ethic among younger children is one thing – however, he would only be instilling this “work ethic” in poor students. So what, do wealthier children already have a work ethic? Clearly the debate of the haves and the have-nots is far from over. And while Kingston and some other conservatives hold the belief that minorities (specifically those that support the Democratic Party) receive the most welfare – explaining why so many Republicans have rebuffed President Obama’s proposal to provide federal money for Medicaid insurance to poorer individuals – it is, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, actually whites who are the largest recipients of welfare, including food stamps. And while Republicans such as Representative Louie Gohmert are concerned that families are using their food stamps to buy king crab legs – yes, can barely afford to send their children to school, but somehow they are filling their dinner plates with king crab – we still are missing a crucial point (or Kingston and his fellow supporters are, I should say).

Why on Earth is it the child’s responsibility to pay for his or her lunch? I’m sure the wealthier students are getting money from their parents or guardians, yet somehow we are painting the poorer children as leeches that are simply taking the food for free and because of it, devaluing the idea of hard work in our society. I know, I know, here goes Sam, that bleeding heart liberal, saying that we should give all of our money to the poor. Except that’s not what I’m saying. I’m simply saying that it should 1) fall to the parents’ to ensure that food is available for their young offspring (this goes for all income levels), and 2) the responsibility and idea of work ethic should, again, be the parents’ responsibility. Who are we to tell a nine-year-old child that because his or her mommy and daddy do not make enough money that he or she will not get lunch unless the floor is mopped first? Or more realistically, unless that hydrochloric acid is handled properly (because that is, after all, one of the chemicals custodians and janitors must use, and hey, Kingston is all for entrusting the kids with it, or did he forget about that aspect of the job?).

The Republicans are worried about the Democrats’ idea of “invasive” (aka big) government – well, Kingston and his mates need to take a look in the Magic Mirror that will definitely tell them they are not the fairest (see what I did there?) of them all. Kingston and, at a time, Gingrich, wanted a policy that not only implemented child labor, but it would also create an extreme level of inequality amongst the children at said schools. What we’ll end up having is Cinderella vs. The Evil Stepsisters: Kiddie Style. I do not want to be so quick to judge these individuals, but it is evident that these politicians do not necessarily respect janitors’ jobs as they are so quick to suggest letting them all go and handing over the responsibilities to the students (who, if I’m not mistaken, are in school to actually receive an education, not to perform manual labor). And not only does this proposal come across as rather uppity, but it’s also incredibly insulting. And not to mention insane. Hard work is one thing, Kingston, cruel and unusual punishment (which happens to encompass not just physical pain, but also humiliation) is another.

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