'Free' food, at a price

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Last year, the Frankfort Independent school system prudently rejected a government program that subsidizes free lunch and breakfast for all students, not just the poverty-stricken. The city school board opted out after learning universal free meals at Second Street School would have cost city taxpayers $2,500 a month.

This year there’s apparently been a change of heart. Students returning to Second Street for the new school year last week were invited to gather around the table without charge whether they officially qualified for free and reduced-priced meals or not. The system’s extra cost is expected to reach about $5,000 a year.

This new way of doing business results from the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, passed by Congress and signed by President Obama in 2010. The no-pay option applies to schools where at least 40 percent of the student body is on public assistance. The number tops 53 percent at Second Street.

Part of the philosophy is to spare poor children the embarrassment of having to sign up for free meals. Now the humble and the affluent all get the same treatment, which seems to be the trend in federal programs. Government aid to college students has gradually expanded to assist many from relatively prosperous families – who may need a hand because tuition and other costs are rising exponentially. States are mulling over whether to participate in the Medicaid expansion offered under the Affordable Care Act. Medicaid – established to help poor people pay for health care – would grow under the new law to cover those earning up to 133 percent of poverty-level income. As one of the nation’s poorest states, Kentucky stands to benefit, but joining the program won’t be an easy decision politically because the commonwealth has previously struggled to balance even a smaller Medicaid budget.

All of these programs address real needs. Lots of people who once thought they were fairly well off have taken a step down the ladder since the Great Recession struck in 2007. Maybe they aren’t officially “poor,” under the law, but they’re having a hard time making ends meet, nonetheless. Some no doubt will be happy to have little Johnny take breakfast and lunch at the school cafeteria.

But the old maxim, “There’s no free lunch,” still holds. City taxpayers will get the bill for the local portion of this new social service, including parents whose children attend schools where only their poverty-level classmates eat for free.

The government is also forcing up the price of meals served to paying students. The Lexington Herald-Leader reported Monday that many public school districts across Kentucky are having to raise fees this year because the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids law also mandates more wholesome – and costlier – food in school lunches. The rule is that families paying their own way must remit enough to offset the government reimbursement schools receive for free and reduced-priced lunches.

Not everyone’s convinced the “health” food measures up. Kim Wallis told The State Journal’s Katheran Wasson her daughter will forgo Second Street’s free meals and continue carrying a sack lunch from home. She said her homemade food is more healthful and, besides, taxpayers shouldn’t have to absorb the extra expense of universal free meals.

Childhood nutrition has always been a basic parental responsibility, which even the impoverished met at great personal sacrifice, if need be. Government should encourage families to rise to this once-respected responsibility, not shirk it.

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  • Corn flakes? Oatmeal? Milk? Really, it's not that hard. "If you can't feed 'em, don't breed 'em."

  • I am one of those hard working parents who has a child in FIS and I am thankful that FIS has offered free lunches. I work hard everyday, but with the rising cost of everything it does helps. It takes alot to raise a child and yes I knew that before I had children but at the time I had my children you didn't have to take a loan out everytime you went to the gas pump or the grocery store. I do not receive food stamps, a medical card or government housing. I'm in the "middle: class where you don't get a break on anything. I pay for my house (no government assistance) I pay for my car (no government assistance) I pay for my grocery's and my family medical expenses. So yes, it's nice to get a break!

  • well, thanks, ukfan, but let's not go too crazy. i completely understand people work hard for what they have. and it's pretty deflating to see perfectly able bodied people sitting around taking advantage. but it's apparently impossible to separate the people who legitimately need help, and those who don't. i made a conscious decision many moons ago i was going to be willing to contribute to those taking advantage, if it meant no one who needed help were denied. pragmatism is a curse. (8

  • tafugate..thank goodness someone on here has some common sense.

  • kids shouldn't have to worry about taking enough money to school to pay for lunch. i read somewhere not too long ago, a large percentage of kids whose parents were not on any form of government assistance, were still receiving the free lunches. so why go to the expense of attempting to identify who qualifies and who doesn't? just give them all a free meal, taxpayers come out ahead in the long run. back when i was in elementary/high school (horse and buggy days), everyone always received a free meal. when did it change? as for parents who think the school system doesn't provide their children with a healthy enough lunch, good on ya. you'll make your contribution to pay the freight for others, but you'll be assured you have a healthy child. win-win.

  • Thats it....instead of making them work for the fee breakfast and lunch, cleaning tables, sweeping etc, like was was done when I was a kid just give it to them. Teach 'em good and early that they're' is always a free lunch if you know where to look. Then when they grow up they won't know how to work and make it, or have any incentive to do so, they'll just stand at the soup kitchen for free lunch. this is more 'Oboma is yo' Mama' Care.

  • Well said.If we don't get a handle on all this liberal thinking----- I would say the country will go broke, but it is always broke!!!!