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Is it a free lunch or a free ride?
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I recently became aware of two programs offered in Liberty and Long counties that concern me. While created with good intentions, I’m sure, the more I thought about these programs, the more upset I became.
I am referring to the summertime lunch program and the free/reduced-price lunch program in public schools.
Free summer lunches are served to children at various locations when school is out. At first glance, that seems like a good idea, but after thinking logically about the program, I see a real problem.
As a taxpayer, I’m concerned about the number of free-lunch distribution points in the community. According to a recent report, 21 locations in Liberty County provide these meals. Is it really necessary to have all these locations, or is this a simple case of federal money being available for a “feel-good” program? And what about accountability for these meals? In reality, there isn’t much. If a person wants to eat a meal at “Location A,” and then move on for second or third helpings at “Locations B” or “C,” there’s nothing in place to stop them.
Although these meals are available to all children, the target group is students who receive free or reduced-price lunches during the school year. According to USDA eligibility guidelines, most families whose children receive free or reduced-price lunches also are eligible for EBT funds to buy groceries. If these children are eating free meals at school and at these provider sites, then why are their families still receiving funds on an EBT card?
Additionally, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than one-third of U.S. children and adolescents were overweight or obese in 2010. I’m not going to say anything more than that, but you do the math or, in this case, count the calories.
The full-price rate for lunches in Long County schools is increasing for the upcoming academic year. Initially, I thought, “Well, everything is going up. Such is life.” Then I learned that of the 2,799 students in the Long County School System, only 752 of them pay the full price for their meals. There are 315 who pay the reduced price, but the other 1,732 children get free meals. If these kids are eligible for free lunches, then, according to the guidelines, most of their families also are eligible for EBT funds that should be paying for these children’s breakfasts and lunches. So, in looking at the big picture, it appears that families are being given federal money — our tax dollars — to buy multiple meals for their children.
Are the kids eating four meals a day, or are their families buying shrimp, steak and other costly items that most of us eat only occasionally? Or, even worse, are some of these EBT recipients receiving 70 cents on the dollar from some crooked convenience store?
My family buys generic food and seeks out deals because my son is one of those 752 children who pay full price for his meals, and I’m lucky if I can get a small tax refund at the end of the year.
Are there some hungry children who need these free meal programs? Absolutely. Are there some hard workers who need EBT funds? Absolutely. We all know people who fall into these two categories, but we also know from trips to the grocery store and from seeing kids with $150 shoes on their feet that there are a lot of abuses in our system. We have a real problem, and if something isn’t done to fix it, those children who are paying full price for their lunches today will have to deal with our irresponsibility as a country in the future.

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