Training Americans for Dependency One Bite at a Time

Over the last century America has gone from a nation that prized self-reliance to one where  millions seem unbothered by dependency. For a political leader just to hint at curtailing entitlements or adding a work requirement certifies him as evil. This is hardly surprising is that Washington itself promotes dependency and this training for irresponsibility begins early in life. Long before a youngster can vote, he or she learns, regardless of what economist say, that there really is such a thing as a free lunch.   

A recent Wall Street Journal article (July 19, 2017, A3) highlighted how this sorrowful condition is encouraged. The Journal article concerns government financed school meals (lunches but increasingly larger numbers of breakfasts). This generosity, in addition to providing daily vitamins and minerals also supplies a daily message that government, not parents, put food on the table. To be specific, in 2016, 73.3% of all school children availing themselves of school lunches ate either free or reduced priced lunches; this compares to 15.1% in 1969.

More is involved than just instructing youngsters in the statist Lord’s Prayer where the Department of Agriculture (USDA), not the Lord, gives us our daily bread. This “instruction” also applies to the millions of other youngsters whose families do not financially qualify for subsidized meals and must therefore pay something toward their daily bread. At least they, unlike those on the subsidized meal plan, ought to see the connection between the sweat of somebody’s brow and their daily bread. 

No such luck. Though the Department of Agriculture that administers school food programs explicitly requires schools to notify parents when junior is a deadbeat, inaction regarding no-pays is commonplace. Yes, some school districts are cracking down, for example, banning freeloaders from attending graduation or even withholding meals until the bill is paid (legally permissible), but many other school districts permit junior (and his parents) to stiff Uncle Sam. For example, the Los Angeles Unified School District recently absorbed $629,000 in debt for these unpaid meals; the Yonkers New York School District had an even more forgiving policy and thus wound up with a deficit of $800,000. 

This tolerance for freeloading is predictable. Public schools are not like McDonald’s and few educators seem alarmed over burgeoning education costs. In fact, some educators resist any effort to get deadbeats to pay up for their meals and if a school instead supplies a bag lunch to lunchroom deadbeats, the school is condemned for “lunch shaming” (nearly half of all schools engage in some form of shaming). Though shaming is permitted by USDA rules, Texas and New Mexico currently prohibited it and other states are now considering anti-shaming measures. A proposed federal law -- the Anti-Lunch Shaming Act of 2017 -- has even been introduced in Congress. And needless to say, a no money, no food policy is unthinkable in today’s educational hyper-compassionate environment.  

Almost on cue, private philanthropic organizations -- Fund the Future Forward, School Lunch Fairy, among others -- have stepped in to rescue the children  of parents who, despite being financially able as per federal guidelines, refuse to pay junior’s debt. For these philanthropic do-gooders, better to bail out deadbeat parents than to have children suffer shame.     

Imagine what youngsters absorb from their daily school cafeteria experiences. They will learn that at least for meals, poverty has no costs but escaping poverty does -- “escapees” must pay for meals. Nor do needy students pay a price for parental poverty by receiving less, for example, just a peanut butter sandwich while the “rich” dine on hot roast beef. True egalitarianism, if not socialism begins early.

Most of all, no link now exists between work and benefits since those unable to pay are not required to earn the meals. Perhaps educators view helping clean up a mess as illegal child labor. Even more “educational,” is that those who actually do pay are just chumps since being a deadbeat often has no consequences. Further add that those receiving free meals are rarely pitiful emaciated barefoot kids dressed in rags. Many, no doubt, will have cell phones and dress stylishly.

This is an oft-repeated lesson -- assuming attendance of 170 days per school year, by his or her junior year, Washington’s free school food programs will have been witnessed some 1700 or so times (double that if there is a breakfast program). Perfect training for a seamless adult transition to food stamps, Section 8 housing, no-pay ER care and all the rest of today’s “free”  entitlements.     

Today’s government school meals program offers an ideological dividend: teach people that political power, not holding a job, is now what puts food on the table. No wonder so many of those permanently on welfare feel no shame -- years of free lunches have been eaten with zero embarrassment. And to be frank, it is probably more cost effective for educators to pressure government for these benefits than to implore parents to fix meals for junior.  

Sadly, training for dependency only expands. Under Washington’s Community Eligibility Provision schools in high poverty areas (see here for details) can enroll all students, no application needed, in the free breakfast and lunch program regardless of family income (both Chicago and Boston among others are already in the program). In the meantime, the Department of Agriculture itself is busy instructing the public on how to lobby local officials for yet more government school meal assistance. The list of tactics to extract yet more “free” food includes forming partnerships with food banks and libraries, encouraging schools to work with migrants, coordinating efforts with hunger hotlines, and providing school children with flyers to take home and multiple other tactics to pressure Uncle Sam to pick up the check.

These free and subsidized meals are, of course, only a small part of training citizens for dependency. But, for those uneasy about such training it would be a mistake to focus the debate on hunger -- nobody wants starving children. The deeper issue is somehow restoring the link between eating and work. We are not psychologically debilitating youngsters by teaching them that somebody pays for putting bread on the table. School meals are not manna from heaven. Can we really be surprised that millions of Americans are no longer terrified by the prospect of falling into poverty given that they have personally witnessed the advantages of poverty -- you get “free” food.

Now imagine an alternative school meals universe. Everyone is now guaranteed minimum nutrition, for example, a cheese sandwich on white bread and a glass of milk. But students could sign up for various school jobs, from cooking to removing graffiti, all of which would, of course, reduce education expenses and impart some real-world skills. Teachers would check that the work was performed correctly, on-time and completing the task would earn “school dollars” redeemable for food, including goodies like ice cream cones. Students could now receive better meals all the while building good work habits while taxes would decline.   

What’s “wrong” with that picture? Let me guess that at least one ex-community activist from Chicago would denounce the program in a speech explaining, “this is not who we are.” 

Over the last century America has gone from a nation that prized self-reliance to one where  millions seem unbothered by dependency. For a political leader just to hint at curtailing entitlements or adding a work requirement certifies him as evil. This is hardly surprising is that Washington itself promotes dependency and this training for irresponsibility begins early in life. Long before a youngster can vote, he or she learns, regardless of what economist say, that there really is such a thing as a free lunch.   

A recent Wall Street Journal article (July 19, 2017, A3) highlighted how this sorrowful condition is encouraged. The Journal article concerns government financed school meals (lunches but increasingly larger numbers of breakfasts). This generosity, in addition to providing daily vitamins and minerals also supplies a daily message that government, not parents, put food on the table. To be specific, in 2016, 73.3% of all school children availing themselves of school lunches ate either free or reduced priced lunches; this compares to 15.1% in 1969.

More is involved than just instructing youngsters in the statist Lord’s Prayer where the Department of Agriculture (USDA), not the Lord, gives us our daily bread. This “instruction” also applies to the millions of other youngsters whose families do not financially qualify for subsidized meals and must therefore pay something toward their daily bread. At least they, unlike those on the subsidized meal plan, ought to see the connection between the sweat of somebody’s brow and their daily bread. 

No such luck. Though the Department of Agriculture that administers school food programs explicitly requires schools to notify parents when junior is a deadbeat, inaction regarding no-pays is commonplace. Yes, some school districts are cracking down, for example, banning freeloaders from attending graduation or even withholding meals until the bill is paid (legally permissible), but many other school districts permit junior (and his parents) to stiff Uncle Sam. For example, the Los Angeles Unified School District recently absorbed $629,000 in debt for these unpaid meals; the Yonkers New York School District had an even more forgiving policy and thus wound up with a deficit of $800,000. 

This tolerance for freeloading is predictable. Public schools are not like McDonald’s and few educators seem alarmed over burgeoning education costs. In fact, some educators resist any effort to get deadbeats to pay up for their meals and if a school instead supplies a bag lunch to lunchroom deadbeats, the school is condemned for “lunch shaming” (nearly half of all schools engage in some form of shaming). Though shaming is permitted by USDA rules, Texas and New Mexico currently prohibited it and other states are now considering anti-shaming measures. A proposed federal law -- the Anti-Lunch Shaming Act of 2017 -- has even been introduced in Congress. And needless to say, a no money, no food policy is unthinkable in today’s educational hyper-compassionate environment.  

Almost on cue, private philanthropic organizations -- Fund the Future Forward, School Lunch Fairy, among others -- have stepped in to rescue the children  of parents who, despite being financially able as per federal guidelines, refuse to pay junior’s debt. For these philanthropic do-gooders, better to bail out deadbeat parents than to have children suffer shame.     

Imagine what youngsters absorb from their daily school cafeteria experiences. They will learn that at least for meals, poverty has no costs but escaping poverty does -- “escapees” must pay for meals. Nor do needy students pay a price for parental poverty by receiving less, for example, just a peanut butter sandwich while the “rich” dine on hot roast beef. True egalitarianism, if not socialism begins early.

Most of all, no link now exists between work and benefits since those unable to pay are not required to earn the meals. Perhaps educators view helping clean up a mess as illegal child labor. Even more “educational,” is that those who actually do pay are just chumps since being a deadbeat often has no consequences. Further add that those receiving free meals are rarely pitiful emaciated barefoot kids dressed in rags. Many, no doubt, will have cell phones and dress stylishly.

This is an oft-repeated lesson -- assuming attendance of 170 days per school year, by his or her junior year, Washington’s free school food programs will have been witnessed some 1700 or so times (double that if there is a breakfast program). Perfect training for a seamless adult transition to food stamps, Section 8 housing, no-pay ER care and all the rest of today’s “free”  entitlements.     

Today’s government school meals program offers an ideological dividend: teach people that political power, not holding a job, is now what puts food on the table. No wonder so many of those permanently on welfare feel no shame -- years of free lunches have been eaten with zero embarrassment. And to be frank, it is probably more cost effective for educators to pressure government for these benefits than to implore parents to fix meals for junior.  

Sadly, training for dependency only expands. Under Washington’s Community Eligibility Provision schools in high poverty areas (see here for details) can enroll all students, no application needed, in the free breakfast and lunch program regardless of family income (both Chicago and Boston among others are already in the program). In the meantime, the Department of Agriculture itself is busy instructing the public on how to lobby local officials for yet more government school meal assistance. The list of tactics to extract yet more “free” food includes forming partnerships with food banks and libraries, encouraging schools to work with migrants, coordinating efforts with hunger hotlines, and providing school children with flyers to take home and multiple other tactics to pressure Uncle Sam to pick up the check.

These free and subsidized meals are, of course, only a small part of training citizens for dependency. But, for those uneasy about such training it would be a mistake to focus the debate on hunger -- nobody wants starving children. The deeper issue is somehow restoring the link between eating and work. We are not psychologically debilitating youngsters by teaching them that somebody pays for putting bread on the table. School meals are not manna from heaven. Can we really be surprised that millions of Americans are no longer terrified by the prospect of falling into poverty given that they have personally witnessed the advantages of poverty -- you get “free” food.

Now imagine an alternative school meals universe. Everyone is now guaranteed minimum nutrition, for example, a cheese sandwich on white bread and a glass of milk. But students could sign up for various school jobs, from cooking to removing graffiti, all of which would, of course, reduce education expenses and impart some real-world skills. Teachers would check that the work was performed correctly, on-time and completing the task would earn “school dollars” redeemable for food, including goodies like ice cream cones. Students could now receive better meals all the while building good work habits while taxes would decline.   

What’s “wrong” with that picture? Let me guess that at least one ex-community activist from Chicago would denounce the program in a speech explaining, “this is not who we are.”