There’s been a lot of talk over my post last week criticizing the expanded lunch program Michelle Obama is trying to put in place that would feed two million kids three meals a day, 365 days a year. I said it was terrible, because government was taking over a parent’s job.
In the comments, some agreed, some didn’t, and some were noncommittal. The issue for many was, what else are we going to do? We can’t remove kids from their homes, and we have to feed them.
I agree, but I want to step backwards for a moment to see why this is the wrong thing to do–and why smaller government may actually be kinder in the long run.
First, I think this idea–that poor people can’t feed their kids–is extremely insulting to poor people.
My mother was abandoned when I was 2 years old. She had to get an apartment, get a job, and work her way up the ladder. It was tough. One month she didn’t have enough money for rent. The church found out and lent her some. The next month she paid it back. She refused to accept charity, and she wanted me to know that she raised me herself.
She grew up in a house with no running water–even well into the 1960s. And yet she did well for herself, as did her sisters. Her parents coped.
There are readers of this blog who are on food stamps. I know some of their stories. One month one woman was desperate because the food stamps arrived late and she was worried. But it never occurred to her to not feed her kids. She visited a food bank temporarily, and then all was well again. They’re getting back on their feet after a period of unemployment.
I have another friend who is in subsidized housing with her five children. Her money is extremely tight. But she cooks from scratch and they never, ever go hungry. They may not have cable, but they have food.
Many studies have shown, too, that those with the least disposable income are not those on welfare or at the bottom of the income scale.
It’s the “working poor”, those who don’t qualify for welfare, and thus don’t qualify for Medicare (UPDATE: Whoops! I meant Medicaid) in the US or the drug/dental plan in Canada. They don’t have the government income supports, so they have to pay for everything. And they end up with less in their pockets than many who have such subsidies. But they press on because they want to raise their children themselves.
To say that the poor, who have access to welfare, food stamps, food banks, and churches, cannot feed their kids is excusing the poor from a basic responsibility.
Our main responsibility, as parents, is to feed our kids first. That’s fundamental to being a good parent. And the income supports and charities are there, if one is motivated enough to find them. To not feed your kids is to not do one’s most basic responsibility. It is not a problem of poverty; it is a problem of culture.
I am reminded of some of the prophecies in Isaiah, where Isaiah repeatedly says that the famine will be so bad in the city that people will eat their own children. When I was a child myself and a teen reading that, I thought, “Oh, my goodness! How could anyone ever be that poor?” You see, I thought the passages were a description of their economic hardship.
What I only realized later, once I became a mother, was that those passages were not meant to describe how poor they were but how depraved they were. Honestly, would you ever be poor enough to eat your children? Nope. Inconceivable. If they were, the problem was not their poverty but their culture (which is probably why they were being judged by God in the first place).
We are in the same situation now. The problem is not income but culture. People would rather let the government feed their kids because then they have money for other things that they want more. And the more this happens, the more it becomes ingrained, “I do not have to do basic parenting functions. That is up to the government.” When we had smaller government, most of the very poor still found ways to feed their kids. Grow government, and all of a sudden we stop doing basic things.
If people stop doing some basic parenting functions, what makes you think they won’t stop doing more?
Once you stop thinking of yourself as primarily responsible for your kids, and think that the schools are, or the government is, then you will stop doing all kinds of things that kids need you to do. And no amount of government money can make up for a mother or father who decides to stop acting like a parent. Big government doesn’t always help; sometimes smaller government does.
Being poor is not a crime. Most people who live in poverty do care for their children, and to say that the poor can’t feed their kids is an insult to the very hard-working and proud people throughout our continent who are struggling in this horrible economic time, but who are not giving up on their role as parents.
The culture is the problem. And by doing these school feeding programs, we are only ingraining a culture that says, “somebody else should raise my kids.” How is that good for children?
That’s why I believe smaller government is better government for everyone involved. If government were smaller, people would be forced to feed their children again and take over some basic responsibilities. And if they didn’t do that, then yes, I think government should step in and take those kids.
Perhaps that’s stupid of me to say, because I know there aren’t enough foster homes, and I know many foster homes are horrible (although all the foster parents I know, and I know quite a few, do such a great job that the kids want to stay).
But until there are consequences to not doing a basic job as a parent, we are not going to see the culture change.
A better idea, I’ve always thought, is to stop giving money in welfare cheques to single/teen moms, and instead set up homes where women live in community, with social workers. Say 10-15 rooms, with a woman and a baby in each, where they learn to cook together, balance the budget together, and play with their kids together. They would get some job training, too, and then after a few years they would be expected to fend for themselves.
To give a 17-year-old a welfare cheque that allows her to live in her own apartment if she gets pregnant is just stupid. If a 17-year-old knew that if she were pregnant, she’d have to go live in a home and actually work, maybe we’d see fewer kids becoming single mothers.
But that’s just my idea, and perhaps that’s naive, too. I don’t know what the solution is. But I do know there is something sick in our culture when the government thinks it has to feed 2,000,000 children 3 meals a day because parents can’t/won’t do it.
That’s not a poverty issue. It’s a cultural issue. And smaller government may just be the only way to change that culture.
UPDATE: A reader sent along this link for a volunteer group that’s not just running a soup kitchen; they’re teaching lower income people how to prepare produce, to help learn healthy eating. I think this is a far better model (private charity) than government help, and if someone were to individually want to help, this is a great place to start. I just don’t think government should have a role in it.