House Republicans aiming to cut free summer lunch programs for poor city kids.
So what’s the problem? The overall summer program has come under scrutiny since its inception in 2010, even though it is quite small in comparison to the school breakfast and lunch plans, only feeding about one in every seven kids who need the meals program during the school year. This year the Obama administration asked Congress for an additional $30 million to help it do better than that by piloting some strategies to connect more kids to summer meals. Feeding hungry kids? It’s a gimme, right? But the House plan not only reduced the pilot’s appropriation by 10 percent to $27 million, it also just announced plans to limit the program to benefit only “rural area” school districts, which will actually be limited even further to rural Appalachia. Nowhere are we told why the urban/rural distinction matters for hungry kids, although you are certainly free to guess. (Hint: “Rural” regions may tend to vote Republican and contain fewer minorities.)
Beyond the dog whistle suggesting that “urban” poor are less worthy than the rural poor lies data showing that the distinction is absurd. There is tremendous need in impoverished rural areas—in Southwest Virginia, for example, about one in every four kids lives in poverty. But in “urban” Petersburg and Richmond, that number rises to nearly one in every three kids. And families are no less needing of food assistance when kids are home from some of the worst-performing schools in the Commonwealth.
Republicans purport to be responding to a greater need in rural areas. But depending who you count and how you count, urban areas actually have more households in need than rural ones, so both areas need to be targeted, and both areas deserve the opportunity to focus on improving the number of kids these programs serve.