North Carolina Republicans are very concerned about free school lunches. In a debate on whether to continue providing free school lunches to all the kids in the state ranked eighth for child hunger, Republicans worried that doing so would be bad for families … and suggested it was unnecessary, anyway.
“I think the job of this general assembly is to force you to go back to the basics we had before and put your personal agenda aside,” state Rep. Mark Brody told Dr. Lynn Harvey, the state school nutrition chief, as she argued for the expanded school lunch program to be continued. (Her “personal agenda” here being kids not going hungry.) Brody wasn’t done.
“I go visit my food banks in there, and there's a lots of food going on. Nobody's being denied anything,” Brody said. “The idea that kids don't have access to good food—parents just need to buy it and feed it. My mother did that to me.”
This is a deeply confused man, hopscotching from food banks to “parents just need to buy it.” He’s also deeply wrong, since, again, North Carolina is ranked eighth for child hunger in the U.S. Obviously someone is being denied something, and kids don’t have access to good food.
The leaders of food banks have been clear: Addressing food insecurity requires government action. ”There’s only so much we can do,” said a food bank official in 2020. “The federal government has an incredibly important role to play here.” The federal government has played a role, from expanding the free school lunch program to include all kids through the pandemic, to increasing food aid to families. North Carolina needs to play a role, too.
Brody’s mother was able to buy food and feed it to him. Not every family is able to do that, especially since North Carolina’s minimum wage is $7.25 an hour, the federal minimum wage. At that level, a family composed of a full-time worker with one child is living in poverty, which very often means food insecurity. And while those families should be eligible for free school lunches even if they no longer go to every student, things like paperwork to get the free lunches could be a major challenge for some that would keep food out of their kids’ mouths.
It wasn’t just Brody.
“I just think we're leading towards a socialization here that takes the responsibility away from the families,” according to state Rep. Jamie Boles. So kids should go hungry in the name of “responsibility.” What a stellar life lesson.
”Don’t parents really have the responsibility at any income level for insuring that their children have food,” asked state Sen. Ted Alexander, “or are we, as a government, are we just sending the message that says that they're incapable of doing that and that we will just do it for them?” Well, since you, as a government, are keeping the minimum wage so low that many families are incapable of ensuring that their children have food, it’s not really so much about sending a message as it is about perpetuating a reality.
Republicans think kids should go hungry to teach parents some kind of a lesson about responsibility. It’s nakedly cruel, and they’re proud of it.