Tuesday, June 9, 2009

And you thought there was no such thing as a free lunch

The Sisters School District is initiating a free summer lunch program for kids under 18 (see this week’s issue of The Nugget).

It’s a federally-funded program, with no local dollars spent, designed to provide a nutritious lunch for kids whose families are in tough financial circumstances. Sisters’ census data shows that there are enough families in such straits for the area to qualify for the program.

You can see that for yourself in the numbers being served at the Kiwanis Food Bank.
I have no problem with feeding kids who need help to get a good lunch. The problem is, the program is not means-tested; there is no application process. Anybody under 18 can show up and get a free lunch.

There’s no means-testing or qualification because the program can’t “discriminate” or stigmatize by identifying kids who need help and only serving them.

This kind of thing drives me nuts. We can’t serve the kids who need it and exclude those who don’t because it might hurt somebody’s feelings to be singled out?

I understand the rationale — “stigma” might discourage people who need the program from using it — but I don’t like it. It invites abuse. You could argue that it involves a small amount of money and it’s only federal dollars anyway, so what’s the big deal...

But it’s this kind of thing that sours people on programs that their tax dollars fund, that gives what should be a beneficial helping hand a bad name.

This isn’t the school district’s fault; they have to work within the rules as they are handed down. And, especially right now, it’s a worthwhile program.

I guess we should just hope that teens and families who can afford lunch do the right thing and buy it in town and leave the free lunch program for those who really need it.

Jim Cornelius, Editor


  1. To implement means testing you necessarily have to have people to collect information and validate it from each applicant. A bureau, Populated by Bureaucrats to evaluate each applications merit, and having to be paid to do it. Now there are forms and files and cases and dossiers. That have to be housed computerized and archived.

    I say just hand out the free lunches to who ever wants them. Advertise the intent. Most people are honest and won't take a free lunch they don't need. The cost of giving a lunch to someone who doesn't deserve it is far out weighed by the cost of a means testing bureaucracy, that probably wouldn't even catch the cheater anyway.

  2. Instead of "handing out free lunches", how about we just say no ? Oh but we can't do that, you do know its all about the kids !! What about the parents ? You know this is summer time, we are not in school. My god, what's next free dinner and a movie !!

  3. I have a better idea: Lets put the unemployed in jail. That way they wont bother anybody by being inconveniently in need of help. Out of sight, out of mind as they say.

  4. Lets see, because its a federally funded program and no local dollars are involved, its okay ? There in lies the problem, maybe the average person doesn't realize that federal money is actually our money !!

  5. Anonymous 1:

    I don't think any bureaucracy is needed at all — at least none beyond what already exists. The school district identifies those who qualify for free and reduced lunch — just use that.

    The food bank, as I understand it, requires an application.

    It's moot; the feds set the rules. I just think that an excess of sensitivity undermines the credibility of programs that should strictly target real need.

    Jim Cornelius, Editor

  6. From my understanding, ALL kids in Sisters are encouraged to participate in this program. If they don't show up, the program won't stay in Sisters for kids that will truly be without a lunch. If you feel bad about participating, make a donation to the food bank to offset the 'free' lunch.