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Those Greedy, Free-Lunch Eating Kids

 Is it even worth taking on a Fox News discussion about whether too many kids are being fed through summer lunch programs? It is on a Friday afternoon in July when we’re staring down temperatures projected to feel like 108 degrees and all anyone wants to do is move into Snoopy’s Sno-Cone house.

Yesterday the Fox News program “America’s Newsroom” aired a segment titled: “Controversy Over Free Lunch Programs for Kids.” The report referred to the Summer Food Service Program, which is run through the Department of Agriculture and tries to fill the gap for kids who receive free or subsidized meals during the school year. Approximately 17.5 million kids eat breakfast or lunch at low- or no-cost every day that they’re in school through the National School Lunch Program. But over the summer, only a small fraction of those kids have access to free meals in the summertime.

The Fox News segment featured a representative of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association in California, who complained that summer feeding sites could end up helping kids who could afford to buy their own meals. As the Fox reporter Claudia Cowan summarized the position, “critics … wonder if this come one, come all invitation won’t have taxpayers feeding every child, whether they’re needy or not.”

Erring on the side of providing food for kids who might otherwise go hungry wouldn’t seem to be the worst offense. But even setting that aside, the real problem with summer feeding programs has been that there weren’t enough sites to service all the kids who benefit from school lunch programs. That’s one reason the Department of Agriculture’s Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships office started working in 2009 to get local churches and other religious organizations involved.

The faith-based office figured that thousands of churches in low-income areas host summer activities like Vacation Bible School and were already feeding kids who qualified for the summer feeding program. If they registered to become official Summer Feeding Sites, they and other religious organization could be reimbursed for the meals they provided or receive food that had already been allocated for the summer feeding program to prepare for low-income kids. Last year alone, 1400 congregations signed up as new feeding sites, and more are participating in this summer’s session.

This summer feeding program expansion would seem to be the rare government program that conservatives might embrace. After all, it recognizes faith-based groups for the work they’ve been doing and makes it easier (and cheaper) for them to continue serving their communities. But maybe they’re reading a different translation of the Gospel—the one in which Jesus means-tested the folks whom he fed with loaves and fishes.