- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 17, 2011

Next week, the American Federation of Teachers and the folks from Share Our Strength will be sending out an SOS on child hunger in the form of a new report titled “Hunger in America’s Classrooms: Share Our Strength’s Teacher Report.”

Essentially, it’s a push for school-feeding programs, but it also decries the fact that teachers sometimes use their own money to buy food for students.

The timing of their SOS is hardly coincidental, with Congress just beginning to comb through President Obama’s fiscal 2012 spending plan. But while the new report will cite the fact that griping tummies distract kids (and teachers) who should be focused on classwork, the real issue surrounding child hunger will likely be ignored.

More than 32 million students are fed in public school cafeterias every day. Our tax dollars go to breakfast, lunch and after-school feeding programs throughout the regular school year, and during the summer months, we also foot the food bills for child care centers, and at schools and recreation centers for what the U.S. Department of Agriculture calls a “seamless summer” feeding program.

Here’s an example of what the USDA cash-reimbursement plan looks like, according to the agency’s website:

• Free breakfast: $1.48

• Reduced-price breakfasts: $1.18

• Paid breakfast: $0.26

But help me out with this part. The USDA, which in addition to administering the school feeding programs also oversees food stamp and WIC programs, also stipulates this: “Children participating in Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF), the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly the Food Stamp Program), and the Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations (FDPIR) are automatically eligible for free meals.”

So, are we paying twice to feed a child one meal? Are we giving their parents and guardians food stamps to feed them at home, then turning around and using our tax dollars to feed them again at school?

Like middle-schoolers, who are among the cleverest of God’s creatures, advocates for the hungry avoid the truth.

Don’t get me wrong. Hunger — or “food insecurity,” as the politically correct now call it — is a serious problem. Nearly 1 in 4 American youths don’t know when they’ll eat their next meal, according to Share Our Strength.

But will continuing government feeding programs solve the problem? Mr. Obama seems to think so, having pledged to end childhood hunger by 2015. His plan for child-nutrition spending in his 2012 budget proposal retains the current funding level of $7.9 billion.

Billy Shore explains the funding breakdown this way on Share our Strength’s website: “The President calls for a $2.2 billion restoration of SNAP (food stamps) cuts that helped to fund the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act; budgets $25 million for state challenge grants; provides $10 million for school breakfast expansion grants; and funds WIC at a level that recognizes expected growth in the program.”

But still no one’s asking the tough questions. If our efforts to fill the bellies of young children is triple what it used to be, what are the adults doing with the WIC vouchers and food stamps? Children should go hungry only when grownups are not doing what they are supposed to do.

If children aren’t benefiting from these round-the-clock subsidized feeding opportunities, then policy is misdirected, and ramping up the rhetoric won’t flip that script.

Having been poor, but never hungry, I cannot even imagine what that pain feels like, and God willing, I never will. But I have encountered children who have told me they were so hungry they couldn’t think.

The real pain, for me, is that we keep spending money on government programs to feed the children, only to learn they’re still hungry.

Seems to me the SOS isn’t about teachers using their own money to feed students. The real SOS is that parents and guardians are receiving the resources to feed the children but they aren’t doing so.

That is the problem we should be addressing.

Deborah Simmons can be reached at dsimmons@washingtontimes.com.

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