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Who Should Feed the Children?

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Eating is one of the most basic of human instincts. It is a daily necessity. It is essential to life. It doesn’t need to be learned. It is the first thing a newborn baby wants to do. It is a common occurrence. It is also a pleasant experience that often serves as the basis for entertainment, fellowship, dating, and family interaction.

For many children around the world, eating doesn’t come so easy. And more often than not, it serves only to stay alive for another day.

We have all seen the heartbreaking television ads: A child standing in the dirt, clothes in tatters, a sad countenance, a bloated belly — followed by an appeal to feed the children.

One relief organization is even called Feed the Children. Founded in 1979, it is one of the largest international charities headquartered in the United States. According to its “About” statement, Feed the Children “delivers food, medicine, clothing and other necessities to individuals, children and families who lack these essentials due to famine, war, poverty or natural disasters.” The organization claims to have distributed last year “more than 104 million pounds of food and other essentials to children and their families in all 50 states and internationally.” Around the world Feed The Children “fed 350,000 school-aged children daily in 10 foreign countries.”

In addition to the humanitarian work that charitable organizations such as Feed the Children perform, there is something else notable about them: They are private organizations funded voluntarily by donations from individuals, corporations, and churches. They don’t receive government money that is first confiscated from the taxpayers.

Those who — for whatever reason — don’t want to support charitable causes such as feeding hungry children don’t have to. That does not mean that those who don’t donate want children to starve or are indifferent to the plight of children in Third-World countries. They may object to the money that charitable organizations spend on fundraising. They may question whether the money they give will actually go towards purchasing food for starving children. They may prefer to do something more personal. They may already support humanitarian activities, such as feeding hungry children through their church or social club. But even if someone has the means to give many times over but just does not care to, that is still his prerogative. No one should be forced to give. Charity cannot be coerced.

But not all charitable organizations focused on feeding hungry children are alike. Share Our Strength, an organization dedicated to ending childhood hunger in America by 2015, works “with governors, mayors and state, community, faith and private sector leaders across the country to connect families at risk of hunger with the programs that can help them.” And what kind of programs are they talking about? Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry campaign

gives more kids a healthy start to the day by supporting effective school breakfast programs; ensures kids have food at home by helping more eligible families enroll in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food stamps) and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC); keeps kids nourished outside of school hours by ensuring access to afterschool programs that provide snacks or meals; and increasing participation in summer meals programs.

The organization measures its progress by “measuring participation in effective, existing programs that provide nutritious food to children at home (SNAP, or food stamps, WIC, and nutrition education), during school (breakfast and lunch, and through nutrition education) and when school is out (afterschool snacks and summer meals).”

Speaking recently on NPR’s Here & Now, Billy Shore, founder and executive director of Share Our Strength, related that in most states 85 percent of children who are eligible to receive a free lunch during the summer — courtesy of the USDA’s Summer Food Service Program — don’t participate. He went on to explain that the Summer Food Service Program “has so much bipartisan support that it’s actually been exempted from the sequestration that Congress’s Super Committee is putting into effect.”

The heart of every compassionate human being goes out to children who, although they live in a “rich” country such as the United States, don’t have enough to eat. The question that can’t be ignored, however, is who should feed those children?

It goes without saying that it is parents who have the primary responsibility to feed their children. It is true in nature and it is true among human beings. But there is an important difference between animals and men. When an animal can’t provide enough food for its newborn offspring, the result is usually certain death. No lion cares if the offspring of a zebra doesn’t have enough food. And even worse for the zebra, the lion might try to make a meal of the baby zebra. But when human parents can’t provide enough food for their children, there usually stands ready to help feed the children a variety of entities: family, friends, charities, religious organizations, relief organizations — and governments.

And herein lies the problem: There is no such thing as a free lunch. Governments don’t produce food. Governments don’t have any agricultural resources. The USDA is full of bureaucrats, not farmers. For the U.S. government to feed the children of some Americans when they are young through WIC, when they are older through food stamps, when they get to school through the School Breakfast Program, during lunch through the National School Lunch Program, after school through the Afterschool Snack Program, and during the summer through the Summer Food Service Program, it must first take from the production and resources of other Americans.

All government “feed the children” initiatives — no matter how many children they keep from going hungry — are still welfare. They are still redistribution-of-wealth schemes and income-transfer programs. But in the name of protecting, defending, helping, or feeding “the children,” the government can get away with doing anything, and not only not be criticized for it, but supported in its endeavors, even by those who opine the loudest about the Constitution, fiscal conservatism, and limited government.

I mean, of course, the Republicans.

Although the USDA operates WIC and the various school food programs, their authorization is separate from the farm bill that authorizes food stamps. These programs were last reauthorized in the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 (S.3307, P.L. 111-296). The reauthorization passed by unanimous consent in the Senate and by a vote of 264-157 in the House. Only 17 Republicans in the House voted for the bill. But as I recently pointed out, when it comes to farm bills, Republicans vote differently when one of their own is in the White House or they control the whole Congress.

In 2004, the Republican George W. Bush was the president and the Republicans controlled both houses of Congress. Nevertheless, the Child Nutrition and WIC Reauthorization Act of 2004 (S.2507, P.L. 108-265) was introduced by a Republican in the Senate (Thad Cochran), passed by unanimous consent in the Republican-controlled Senate, passed without objection in the Republican-controlled House, and signed into law by a Republican president. Said current House SpeakerJohn Boehner during debate in the House when he was just a representative from Ohio,

Mr. Speaker, I ask unanimous consent to take from the Speaker’s table the Senate bill (S. 2507) to amend the Richard B. Russell National School Lunch Act and the Child Nutrition Act of 1966 to provide children with increased access to food and nutrition assistance, to simplify program operations and improve program management, to reauthorize child nutrition programs, and for other purposes, and ask for its immediate consideration in the House.

I rise in support of this measure, which represents months of hard work and commitment to bipartisan cooperation.

In that spirit we have before us a bill that will extend the life of the Federal child nutrition programs while strengthening program integrity, ensuring effective use of Federal resources, and providing continued nutritional services for millions of American children. And I am pleased to have reached a bipartisan, bicameral consensus that finally will allow the President to sign these important reforms into law.

The Child Nutrition and WIC Reauthorization Act will prevent important nutritional programs from expiring while ensuring that they continue to operate effectively and efficiently. And I am pleased to support this measure and would encourage my colleagues to do so.

 

In 1998, when Republicans controlled both houses of Congress, they passed the William F. Goodling Child Nutrition Reauthorization Act of 1998 (H.R.3874, P.L. 105-336). Once again, the bill was sponsored by a Republican (Mike Castle). The bill passed in the Senate by unanimous consent. In the House, every Democrat voted in favor of the bill along and every Republican — except the heroic Ron Paul. Not because he wants children to go hungry, but because he recognized that it is neither constitutional nor the role of government to feed children.

If the government is looked on as responsible to feed children, then it is no wonder that it is looked on to educate, vaccinate, and medicate children.

None of that means that eliminating such programs should be the number-one priority of opponents of the welfare state. None of it means that those programs should be a major factor in deficit-reduction efforts. None of it means that cutting the programs would help balance the budget. And it is certainly the case that none of it means that libertarians are cruel and heartless and don’t care about children. But such programs should still be recognized as part of the New Deal/Great Society welfare state just like Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF), Supplemental Security Income (SSI), energy assistance, housing assistance, Pell Grants, unemployment insurance, the earned-income credit (EIC), Medicare, Medicaid, and the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP).

It is something that should be remembered not only during National School Breakfast Week (the first week in March) and National School Lunch Week (the second week in October), but every week of the year.

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