GOP Bill Taking School Lunches From 3.5 Million Kids Is “Pro-Life” Hypocrisy

*The following is an opinion column by R Muse*

Most people comprehend what a hypocrite is, and if they follow American politics it is a safe bet that when they hear word hypocrisy they automatically think Republicans. It is true there are hardly any agendas or policies that Republicans and hypocrisy are not closely related, but likely none more than their so-called “pro-life” religious agenda.

As most Americans know, there is nothing whatsoever pro-life about Republicans. And no, claiming ad nauseam that they live and serve to “protect a mass of cells” in a woman’s womb is not protecting a “real, live, breathing child.” It is just an easy means of keeping evangelicals sated and “conservative suckers” voting for Republicans. This is true because for all their talk and willingness to go to any length to protect what semi-intelligent people understand are zygotes and fetuses, Republicans will go to any length to take food and healthcare away from real living, breathing children.

In another gross example of GOP “pro-life” hypocrisy, congressional Republicans have introduced legislation, “Improving Child Nutrition and Education Act of 2016” (H.R. 5003) that guts a key part of the federal free lunch program for children living in poverty. The bill is the product of an avid pro-life Tea Party Republican from Indiana, Representative Todd Rokita.

Rokita wants to rein in government spending by eliminating access to free and reduced-price school lunches for over 3.5 million children at over 7,200 public schools as a cost saving measure. And, just to add insult to hungry children, Rokita’s legislation raises the eligibility requirement for kids in dire poverty to receive free or reduced price lunches.

This is the same “fiscally-responsible” Todd Rokita who is an ardent supporter of the Republican attack on Planned Parenthood that House Republicans had to raid Congress’ reserve fund to pay for. It is not a stretch to believe Republicans want to take the savings from restricting real children’s access to food to fund a continued attack on Planned Parenthood.

The gist of the Republicans’ bill is abolishing the 2010 “community eligibility” legislation that drew “wide bipartisan support” allowing eligible schools in America’s poorest communities to meet “a very stringent threshold” where nearly every student is so poor they qualify for free or reduced price lunches. These schools, over 7,200, are in the nation’s poorest urban and rural school districts such as Baltimore, Detroit, Chicago, and poverty-ridden rural states such as Kentucky, Montana, and West Virginia. The “community eligibility” program provides free or reduced price lunches to over 3.5 million children.

Rokita’s bill eliminates “community” eligibility and forces the 7,200 schools to resort to a burdensome mess involving schools to go through an individual, student by student, application process involving a mountain of bureaucratic red tape for the 7,200 schools affected. It is yet another display of Republican hypocrisy. Republicans constantly rail against “big government” bureaucracy as a matter of course; unless it aids their crusade against poor people to withhold food from the country’s poorest children.

According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), the “community eligibility” program is wildly popular because it both addressed “schools’ desire to improve access to healthy meals and greatly reduced bureaucratic red tape” that was draining valuable resources from already under-funded schools in poor neighborhoods. According to the schools that are participating in the program, the “community eligibility” program aided administrators in high-poverty schools to shift their focus and already limited resources from mountains of red-tape and paperwork to providing higher-quality meals and providing a sound education. Any public school teacher will attest to the challenge of teaching children who are hungry.

The community eligibility program also eliminated the stigma and humiliation of low-income students that “accompanies” accepting free or reduced-cost lunches. And, by eliminating the humiliation of being so poor the children qualified for free or lower-cost lunches, it increased participation and in turn produced the results it was intended in the first place; “improved student achievement, diets, and in-school behavior.”

As noted in the CBPP report, just growing up in a high-poverty neighborhood can have lasting effects on a child’s growth, development and educational experience. This is true even if the child comes from a family that is poor, but not so poor as to be considered eligible for low-cost lunches. For many of the poorest children in America, healthy school lunches may indeed by the one dependable meal they have access to; if only on school days and only when school is in session.

Having access to healthy meals at home and school can help children overcome some of the negative consequences of poverty and food insecurity that takes a toll on children and adults alike. But for “pro-life” Republicans, eliminating the “community eligibility” program serving thousands of schools and 3.5 million children is an important step in “improving childhood nutrition and education.”

Obviously, Republicans are not interested in “improving childhood nutrition or education;” even the title of the Republican legislation is blatantly hypocritical and unrelated to being pro-life for living, breathing children. It is more important to withhold nutritious lunches for 3.5 million children in over 7,000 of the highest-poverty schools in the nation than to actually improve childhood nutrition or their educational experience. And, as a value-added thrill for anti-big government Republicans, the legislation will “impose more red-tape and administrative burdens on thousands of already under-resourced poor neighborhood schools.”

It is a bad joke that Republicans claim to really care about life, especially poor children’s lives. If that was the case they would not block Medicaid expansion or attempts to cut Head Start, food stamps and welfare for single mothers and their young children, and they would stop blocking federal funding for children in lead-poisoned Flint Michigan.

There is, frankly, little to nothing Republicans have done for America’s children, or adults for that matter, that even remotely qualifies them as “pro-life;” particularly where cutting spending is concerned. Republicans are rank hypocrites on their finest day, but scheming to take food away from 3.5 million children living in poverty while clinging to the “pro-life” designation is beyond hypocrisy; it is sheer evil.