When you thought that the state Senators couldn’t get more vindictive, they outdo themselves. Last week, we learned they cut education funding for school districts represented by Democratic Senators who tried to amend their budget. This week, we find out the budget denies free and reduced lunch to more than 50,000 North Carolina school children. To make matters worse, the federal government, not state, pays for those lunches.
The Republican Senators are clearly trying to make a point. They believe that too much money is being spent to help poor people and we need to curb spending. Even if the money is coming from the feds, they argue, it’s still coming out of taxpayers’ pockets. Taking it out on children, though, is inexcusable.
Blaming poor people for being poor is a time-honored tradition among Republicans. In their view, food support just increases dependency for otherwise able adults who don’t want the responsibility of paying for their families. They’re looking at the forest and ignoring the trees. While some people might be duping the government, the kids eating free lunch certainly are not.
I’ve seen a lot of poverty up close. Helping people survive and escape it, especially children, should be a moral imperative. Fraud in welfare programs certainly exists, but mental health, intellectual limitations, physical challenges and substance abuse play a much greater role in keeping people poor.
In related news, stories have been popping up of schools shaming students whose parents have failed to pay lunch bills. They’re disturbing to read if you have any sense of empathy. Schools deny children hot lunches and give them cold sandwiches instead, embarrassing them in front of classmates and marking them as poor. That’s no way to encourage kids to stay in school.
Republicans seem to think that stigmatizing poverty will encourage people to leave it, but being poor is enough of a burden. Poor kids are routinely denied advantages many of us take for granted. Many have transportation problems that prevent them from participating in extracurricular activities such sports or theater. Others can’t pay dues to join clubs or go to events. Making them sit through the school day hungry will likely just discourage them from going to school, not make them want to escape their circumstances any more. And blaming them for being poor is just plain mean.