This problem will likely grow worse as congress tries to slash the deficit. Earlier this year, the unemployment benefits extension was partially paid for by cuts to the food stamps program, while the senate version of the school lunch bill slashes another $2 billion from food stamps to cover increased costs of school lunches. In their charade of trying to appear sensitive to the needs of children, they will make sure that kids are fed at school, while preventing their parents from feeding them at home. Extending the Bush tax cuts, on the other hand, will cost $70 billion per year, more than all nutrition programs combined.
Bolstering the school lunch program at the expense of food stamps may seem like a classic case of robbing Peter to pay Paul, but the story is a little more insidious. Food stamps are often seen as a taxpayer subsidy to poor people, a free handout. Poor people are portrayed as villains, greedy, lazy, and incompetent. Anyone can succeed in America if they just work hard; therefore, giving them food stamps is like rewarding them for their indolence. Kids, on the other hand, are innocent and must be protected. If kids are poor and hungry, it must be the fault of their lazy, incompetent parents. Therefore, let’s feed them at school and not punish them further for their parents’ mistakes. Additionally, the First Lady has taken on school lunch as her own personal pet project, adding to its appeal.Yet the current plan being offered by congress only adds a few cents per student, hardly enough to go from downer cows and tater tots to salad bars and tofu.
Seldom discussed are the huge profits to be reaped from both programs. Since the food stamp program switched to electronic debit cards in the 1990s, CitiCorp has emerged as one of the largest beneficiaries of the program, managing billions of dollars each month in disbursement benefits for Food Stamps, the Veterans Administration, Medicare and other government agencies. They often charge recipients for access, in addition to their profits from disbursements, while providing mediocre to lousy service. School lunch programs also subsidize huge corporations like Aramark, Sodexo and Compass, which earn billions from the program while serving mass produced and sometimes illness-provoking garbage to our kids.
Malnutrition and undernourishment contribute to a host of conditions that harm children and undermine their ability to succeed academically. Hunger makes it hard to concentrate and pay attention in class. Malnourished mothers are more like to give birth to underweight babies, increasing the risk of cognitive impairment. Malnourishment contributes to iron deficiency anemia which can lead to learning disabilities. Because junk food is so much cheaper than nutritious food, poor families eat more of it and have a much higher risk of obesity and obesity-related diseases. Food insecurity also contributes to stress, which causes the overproduction of the stress hormone, cortisol. Chronic overexposure to cortisol can cause memory problems, and contributes to hypertension, cancer, diabetes and heart disease. It also weakens the immune system, potentially increasing the number of days kids miss school.
The real robbery story here is not about Peter and Paul. It is about the rich robbing the rest of us.