The Free Lunch Debate is About So Much More

Denying children food is just one symptom of a malevolent movement

Welcome back to Chaise Lounge! If you are new here, I’d like to give you an especially warm welcome.

Next week’s post will be part of an international collaboration that I am participating in with Womaning in India, another Substack publication. We will be exploring the universality of the mental and emotional load that women carry. As part of this collaboration, I am posting a thread for my readers that will arrive in your mailbox separately from this post to respond to. This is a topic that has received a lot of press, and I would love to hear from you and spark some conversation between readers.

As always, please share this newsletter freely as word of mouth is an excellent way to get the word out. Please comment or email me with any of your thoughts about today’s post. Let’s get going!

Global Updates

  • On September 11, hundreds of women in Kabul, whom the Taliban described as university instructors and students, participated in a protest in support of Taliban rule dressed in burquas. The protest was in reaction to an anti-Taliban protest staged by women earlier in the week. In reaction to that protest, Taliban soldiers beat many of the participants. The Taliban Ministry of Education claims that the women welcome the classrooms segregated by gender. It is hard to know if this protest was orchestrated by the Taliban and women participated out of fear.

  • Emma Raducanu, 18, became the first British woman in 44 years to win a Grand Slam singles title at the US Open Tennis Tournament last weekend. What was stunning about her victory is that she was an unknown player who had to play three matches just to qualify for the tournament. Not only did she win, but she never dropped a set throughout. And more people watched the women’s final than the men’s even though Djokovic was playing for a calendar Grand Slam.

  • In a recently published research study that looked at the effect of whether a mayor in Brazil was male or female had on COVID-19 cases, Bruce et. al. found that cities with female mayors fared better. They were more likely to impose mask and social distancing mandates and as a result. They saw an average of 25.5 fewer COVID-19 deaths per 100,000 residents, and about 47 fewer COVID-19 hospitalizations per 100,000 residents in cities run by women.

National Updates

  • On Wednesday, gymnasts Simone Biles, McKayla Maroney, and Aly Raisman testified before the Senate regarding the FBI’s poor handling of the accusations against former Team USA doctor Larry Nassar. While all of the testimony was both riveting and revolting, Maroney’s testimony pierced my heart. In a previous article, I outlined the issues in the bombshell report from the Inspector General, Michael Horowitz which detailed the lack of care that the FBI took with the case. But to hear that the FBI not only did not respond in a timely manner to her complaints but completely fabricated a story to cover their misdeeds was beyond the pale. You can watch her testimony here.

  • California schools are about to be required to stock their girl’s bathrooms with menstrual products for free. A bill was introduced this session and there appears to be little to no opposition. To learn more about the global period poverty movement, you can read a previous Chaise Lounge post here.

  • Kieran Snyder conducted a small study of performance reviews of men and women and found some startling information. She found that the majority of performance reviews (87%) of women included personal criticism. For men, there was only constructive criticism. And the word “abrasive” popped up frequently for women, but never for men. The study concluded that women receive much more criticism of their personalities than their actual work.

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The Free Lunch Debate is About So Much More

Denying children food is just one symptom of a malevolent movement

It is 4:00 p.m., and you have lost your wallet and have no access to money. You have been looking for it for hours to no avail. You are very hungry because you skipped breakfast and now have no way to buy food. One friend offers to give you $10 to get some food, but before she can give it to you, another co-worker steps in and says, “You can’t give that to him, he will just get used to a handout.” You would be appalled, right? 

Unfortunately, a version of this attitude is showing up right now with government dollars that are meant to support our most vulnerable citizens in housing, food, and health care. Congress passed legislation giving federal dollars to help in all of these areas, but we have state governments, school boards and individuals who are blocking the neediest from accessing those dollars. As a result, we have an increasing homelessness crisis paired with a lack of health care accessibility in many parts of the country. And one school system came perilously close to preventing hungry children from eating.

What kind of person blocks federally allocated money from helping our nation’s most vulnerable people?

The School Lunch Debate

Last month, there was widespread outrage over a Waukesha Wisconsin School Board’s decision to opt-out of a federal pandemic program called the Seamless Summer Option(SSO). The SSO provides free lunch to all students regardless of income. The program has been around for years allowing school districts to adopt the option during the summer. 

With the pandemic raging in 2020, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) offered the program to continue during the school year through a waiver. The FDA was addressing the fact that when kids have to pay for lunch, they have to wait in line and handle money thus becoming exposed to many people for an extended period of time. With the SSO program, there is no waiting in line to pay or handling money.

At the same time, many more parents are unemployed, and paying for school lunches would be difficult.  Knowing that parents already had a lot on their proverbial plates, the administration wanted to support parents and children without having to complete all sorts of forms. Life was hard enough.

Fast forward to this month with schools opening and the Delta variant running rampant. The SSO free lunch program waiver was extended. Except in Waukesha. The school board members there gave a host of reasons for canceling the program from the worry that parents would be “spoiled” by becoming “addicted” to the program. 

But there was so much backlash, the school board rescinded their decision. As I followed this story, I was struck by the lackadaisical way that those who changed their votes approached the issue initially. Board President Joseph Como said the feedback opened his eyes to situations he hadn't been aware of, and he changed his mind "to make sure all children are fed," though he said the program was only a temporary solution. 

"I appreciate your input very much," he said. "I eat every meal every day. I cannot relate to being hungry. I’ve been blessed.” For someone who is the leader of a school district’s board, Como had definitely not done his homework. Prepandemic, one-third of the students in that school district received free or reduced lunch. While it is good that he listened to feedback and adjusted his vote, the fact that the vote passed in the first place lets us know just how easy it is to adopt an attitude of blame rather than solve problems.  

It is hard to fathom the meanness of spirit of those making political hay out of children’s hunger.

Board member Anthony Zenobia said, "If it’s food and free lunch today, it will be forced masking, forced whatever-we-want-to-do in schools because the mob will have the power to tell us what to do." Isn’t the “mob” the actual students and parents he is serving?

Zenobia along with other board members does not understand that in their role as public servants, they are charged with looking out for the greater good of the children of the Waukesha School District. Instead, they are trying to turn an emergency waiver that feeds hungry children into a political issue. To what end? 

Eviction Moratorium

An analogous situation is happening with the rent relief program that the government offered to landlords to avoid evicting their tenants during the pandemic. Many landlords have rejected the government’s money for rent relief. Some do not want the hassle of the paperwork while others are unwilling to comply with some of the requirements that the dollars entail like not raising rent for a prescribed period of time. Instead of getting the rent owed, the landlords receive nothing. They are waiting for the eviction moratorium to run out so they can evict tenants who did not pay. The moratorium has already expired for places with low transmission rates but is in effect until October 3 for places with high transmission. 

Why would a landlord reject free money in favor of evicting tenants down the road? It shows an incredible lack of care for those renters who have already lost the most. While it is understandable that they do not want the hassle of paperwork, sometimes we must do things that are annoying in the interest of the greater good. 

No Medicaid Expansion

In our final example of harming people unnecessarily, twelve states continue to reject Medicaid expansion which only hurts their residents. The federal dollars that would be available to these states are instead being used for other purposes in other states. In the meantime, some of the most vulnerable residents are unable to access health care. 

The initial arguments against accepting the federal dollars, that the state would end up having to pick up the ten percent tab when the federal support was withdrawn, has not come to fruition. The Affordable Care Act has been in effect for eleven years and the federal government has kept its promise to states to fund 90% of the cost.

By not expanding Medicaid, those twelve states are imposing an inability to purchase health insurance on over two million people. These people make too much money to qualify for Medicaid and also do not qualify for ACA subsidies making health insurance out of reach financially. 

There is simply no upside for these states to reject the federal dollars for Medicaid expansion. The only people who benefit are the politicians who are actually hurting their own constituents. And through severe gerrymandering, they get re-elected. 

We live with the consequences

In each of the examples above, the government has allocated funds to support people in urgent and essential matters. Most would agree that these are three areas of life that matter the most.  Our government is duly elected by the people, and even if we do not agree with the government’s choices for allocating money, it is unconscionable to withhold help from those who need it, especially when it costs you nothing. 

In the school lunch situation, it took the backlash of parents and the education of school board members to make a reversal. Fortunately, that was a rather small area and most of the impacted people worked together to let the school board know of their mistake. 

But with the lack of Medicaid expansion in the twelve states, there seems to be no incentive to change course. Democrats have proposed language in the most recent reconciliation bill that would expand Medicaid in those twelve states, but it is not a certainty that that language will stay. 

The CDC estimates that the eviction moratorium protected over six million people from eviction. According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey, as of July 5, about 3.5 million people in the U.S. said they faced eviction in the next two months. Are we prepared to have over three million potentially homeless people when it could have been avoided by landlords accepting government funds? 

Call them out every time

Turning down government money that is meant to help the neediest is responsible for much of the pain in this country. From homelessness to emergency rooms filled with people who cannot pay for their care to hungry children, rejecting dollars that can help for political reasons is unconscionable.

While our form of government allows states and individuals to refuse to take the funds, where does that leave the most vulnerable? Politicians are playing with people’s lives. They know that those who need this money the most have the least amount of power to fight to get it. Those who are in need of government support are being robbed of their ability to access the support by bad actors. 

Our country is in a fragile place right now. We need everyone working together to solve problems. Those who are unwilling to work with the federal government for political gain must be shamed into doing the right thing. And if they can’t be shamed, we must push them out of office.

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