If only issues were as simple and uncomplicated as people think they are…
Indiana Representative Todd Rokita has proposed to ban the practice of providing free lunches to all students in schools where over 40% of the students are eligible for such lunches. He wants to limit the program so that only the students who qualify eat free.
Sounds reasonable enough; as Indianapolis Star editor Tim Swarins recently framed the issue in an editorial defending Rokita’s proposal, why should we spend tax dollars to feed children who (presumably) can afford to pay for their lunches?
Well, there are several reasons, actually, and the one that should be most compelling to Mssrs. Rokita and Swarins (had they bothered to investigate) is financial.
It turns out that the cost of managing the paperwork and processes required to verify who is and who is not eligible for the free lunch is not inconsiderable. In fact, I’m told that the time and effort previously spent determining and confirming continued eligibility often exceeded the cost of simply providing meals for all the children in schools where there are high percentages of impoverished youngsters. (In case you haven’t been in a school cafeteria recently, they aren’t getting filet mignon.)
There are also humanitarian concerns. In schools where children must demonstrate eligibility for the free lunches, those who pay for their food with vouchers or other required identification are often stigmatized by their classmates. Not only is this demeaning for those children, studies suggest that it creates a disincentive to participate–with the result that some percentage of children from families that would clearly qualify simply refuse to apply.
It would be so gratifying if our elected officials–and those in the media who cover them–would take some time to actually investigate the issues involved, instead of jumping to the conclusion that any decision they don’t immediately understand must be wrongheaded and/or wasteful.
Of course, poor kids don’t have lobbyists….