When I went to school and forgot to bring my money for lunch, I would receive a peanut-butter and jelly sandwich at lunch. But in April 2013, 25 students in a Massachusetts middle school were denied lunch because they could not pay for their lunch. The school was supposed to give the children cheese sandwiches and milk if they forgot their money and not let them go hungry; instead, the students were forced to throw out their food in front of their peers, causing some of them to erupt into tears. As a result, the school fired four employees and will allow all children to eat for free for three days next week. After reading this story, I read some of the readers’ comments how the children should not be given food or reduced-price food if their parents couldn’t afford to pay for lunch – the children should just starve. What happened to caring about the future generation?
The National School Lunch Program is a federally assisted meal program operating in American schools; it provides nutritionally balanced, low-cost or free lunches to 31 million children each school day. When my parents were between jobs, I was one of those children until my parents both found jobs. If a school participates in the program, it receives cash subsidies and USDA foods from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Since the program began in 1946, more than 224 billion lunches have been served. In 2011, it cost $11.1 billion for the United States to support this program – an amount that means starving children can eat. When I wake up each morning, I knew I had food in the fridge, but 16.7 million children (22% of American children) don’t know if they get to eat each day.This program guarantees that the child gets at least one nutritious meal a day – that the child will drink milk and not soda, eat fruit instead of candy – a meal not off the dollar menu. And why should the children suffer for their parents’ mistakes? Why should they go hungry because their mother is working two jobs and there is no father around? Why should they go hungry because both their parents decided to have fifteen children even though they live in a two-bedroom apartment? Why should they go hungry because their parents care more about getting high than staying clean to get a job? If these children aren’t taken care of, then they will never have a future and break out of the cycle.
At the end of January 2013, republican senator Stacy Campfield introduced legislation that would slash welfare benefits for parents whose children get bad grades. They claim it will inspire parents to do a better job parenting, while critics say it will hurt the children. Based on my experience, this will only punish the kid. I grew up with parents that were always there for me; they helped me with my math homework, went over my spelling words, and paid for a tutor to help me with reading. Because of my parents’ help early on, I went on to take honors and advanced placement classes in order to increase my chance of getting a scholarship to a good college – which I did. I was lucky. At my high school, there were several students who could not speak proper English – it was so bad, the teacher could not understand them when they asked questions – and no, they weren’t Hispanic immigrants, they were born and raised in the same town as I was, their parents just never bothered to teach them how to speech English so they had to learn from rap music. You know what I’m talking about, the poor kids with bad parents that have no future and are bound to continue the cycle of being a failure, like their parents.They were the kids who had to ride the school bus while everyone else drove cars to school. They were the kids who ate breakfast at the school cafeteria because there was nothing at home for them to eat. They were the kids who wore clothes from the thrift shop and Goodwill. They were the kids who dropped out of high school because no one was there to push them to graduate and to tell them that they could become someone. So, cutting welfare will suddenly wake up a parent after 16-years of ignoring their child? Will the absent father suddenly appear knowing that his baby’s mama will be losing welfare that she uses to pay rent? Will the homeless parents suddenly be able to buy a computer for the child to finish his homework? The amount of welfare a recipient receives isn’t that much to begin with – this law was proposed in Tennessee where a single mom with two kids receives $185 a month – as any person knows, that is about three tanks of gas.
Then there are the children who have good parents, but because of an unforeseen circumstance, their parents don’t have the money to provide for them. The parents may be immigrants from a foreign country, hoping the move to the United States will be a better environment to raise their children. The parents may be tomato pickers working for dirt money, but they want their children to become lawyers, doctors, teachers, and engineers. And there are the children living on the streets with their parents because both parents lost their jobs because of the bad economy. The parents don’t want their children spending the nights in shelter and worrying about food, they want the children to graduate school and get a stable job. A mother leaving her abusive husband and taking her children to a women’s shelter won’t have the money to spend on her children if the father spent their joint-banking account on beer. She just wants her children to eat low-cost meals at school while she saves money for a new house. These parents are doing their best to provide for their children, but need some help so that their children will live up to their potential. How can Americans turn their backs on these families?
Instead of trying to take away food and welfare from a child because of bad parents or bad life events, the government should be trying to make sure the child doesn’t end up like his parent – that he graduates from high school, goes to college, finds a job, and raises a happy family instead of turning to drugs, alcohol, sex, and crime. Countless studies have shown that children with a low-education or drop out of school are more likely to become teenage parents, commit a crime and go to jail, turn to drugs and alcohol, and end up on welfare – each year the federal government spends $38 billion on teenage pregnancy, $74 billion on jails, $15 billion on the war of drugs, and $193 billion on welfare for a total of $320 billion – numbers that will only increase if children continue to be punished for their parents’ choices. Instead of being furious that government spends $11.1 a year to ensure that 31 million children eat one decent meal a day, they should be furious that they and their government continues to fail millions of children each year. These children, no matter if they have bad, average, or great parents, deserve a chance to receive lunch at school every day. Whenever a budget needs to be cut, the budget that effects the future generation is always the first one to go. That needs to change.
- School Lunch Issue Ignites Outrage (huffingtonpost.com)