No one wants to see children go hungry, so one’s natural instinct is to sympathize with a new initiative like No Kid Hungry, which is helping parents and caregivers locate free meals in their communities with a simple text message. But a Richmond Times-Dispatch article profiling the program makes a startling statement:
The school year is over this week for most local schoolchildren, which means so are the daily meals many of them rely on as their main — and sometimes only — source of nourishment.
Note the RTD’s emphasis: School breakfast and lunch programs are sometimes the only source of nourishment for American school children. The RTD is asserting, presumably drawing upon the authority of its sources, that some kids in America don’t have access to any food during the summer. Is that not an astonishing statement? If true, is that not an an extraordinary indictment of our social safety net?
In the month of March 2019, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (popularly known as food stamps) spent $83.5 million on nutritional assistance in Virginia. Benefits were doled out to 705,000 individuals — an average of $118 per person. Additionally, the U.S. Department of Agriculture issued $81.4 million for WIC (women, infants and children) for health and nutritional assistance in Virginia in fiscal 2019. In March 2019 the state unemployment rate was 2.9% — in other words, almost everyone who wanted a job had a job.
Either there are massive holes in the social safety net or something else is going on. If the RTD statement is true, the problem is not that low-income families and kids are going hungry at the end of the month when the food-stamp money runs — $118 per month, or $4 a day, is not much to feed someone. The problem is that large numbers of children are going entirely without. The implication is that some children would be starving without No Kid Hungry to connect them with a local food pantry.
If children would be starving without food pantries, then it would strike me that the curiosity of the social justice warriors in the RTD newsroom would be piqued. Who are these children? Where are they? How has the system failed them? Can the problem be laid at the feet of Republicans and the Trump administration?
Or might there be other explanations? Could single mothers’ budgets be stretched by live-in boyfriends who don’t qualify for food stamps? Could drug addicts be selling their allowances for cash? Is SNAP mal-administered and failing to reach all those who should receive benefits? Is the magnitude of the problem being exaggerated by a professional caring class whose livelihoods depend upon fostering a sense of crisis?
If Virginia children were starving, one way to document the extent of the problem is to track the number of hospital admissions in Virginia relating to malnutrition. I can’t find any such data on the Internet. Insofar as malnutrition does occur, from what I can glean from a quick scan of the online literature, it is associated mainly with older adults, not children. But there’s no substitute for calling up hospitals and asking them directly. Maybe child nutrition is a real problem. Or maybe it is a canard.
The media and the caring class view nutritional issues through the “food desert” lens. Their gut reaction is that the problem requires more government programs and philanthropic programs. They may be right. But I have no confidence that we’re getting the full story. And I don’t see us getting it any time soon.
Update: It has been pointed out to me, and I agree, that I made an unjustified leap of logic when I leaped from the RTD’s statement that “the only source of nourishment for American school children” came from school lunches to the implication that school lunches were the only source of “food.” As Peter Galuszka notes in the comments below, food is not the same as nourishment. Kids may have access to “food” in the form of junk food and sodas during the summer, but not nourishment. That is a fair criticism.
Either way, I would argue, the social safety net still is dysfunctional, the causes of mal-nourishment are still worth delving into, and the conventional wisdom of the poverty-industrial complex still should be questioned.There are currently no comments highlighted.