How did the nation ever survive without the government telling its schools what foods they should serve?
This is one of many questions the Associated Press's Mary Clare Jalonick did not explore in her brief de facto press release this morning trumpeting the wonders of the "nutrition bill" President Obama is signing into law these days (presented in full for fair use and discussion purposes):
KTXS News in Abiliene, Texas refers to the legislation as "the healthy, hunger free kids act" (without capitalization). According to reporter Jacqueline Hince, "One big change could be offering dinner to needy students."
Lord have mercy.
Would it be rude to point out that many "needy students" are in families already receiving Food Stamps, and that feeding them lunch and dinner at school (even breakfast in many cases) duplicates benefits already paid out through that program, which as of the end of November had over 42 million recipients, "or around one-seventh of the U.S. population"?
Oh wait. Maybe there's a sliver of sanity in all of this. After all, according to this item at the Los Angeles Times:
President Obama ... said the money for funding the increase came from cuts in the food-stamp program ....
Sorry, no such luck. Finishing the sentence:
... but that he was committed to working with Congress to find a way to restore those funds.
Even if the funds aren't restored, increases in the level of Food Stamp benefits, which I have repeatedly noted over the past several years were previously pegged at roughly the level of what the USDA has called a Thrifty Meal Plan, have far outpaced increases in the cost of food. Specifically, the benefit levels and increases in what are known as the Maximum Monthly Allotments and the net benefits paid (after deductions for income and assets) were as follows as of October 1, 2008 and October 1, 2009:
Though the USDA did not increase the Maximum Monthly Allotment for fiscal 2011, that's hardly a consolation, given that net benefit levels are already 43% higher ($130 divided by $91) than the formerly mostly reasonable levels of 2007. Food inflation during the 12 months ended October 2010 was only 1.4%, hardly making a dent in the clearly unjustified increases of the past two years.
Food stamp-receiving families have already been getting 26-31 meals in benefits for their kids (depending on whether they access free breakfasts) for 21 weekly meals. If dinner is added to the, uh, menu, make that 31-36 meals. When do we ever get to a point where such blatant waste gets called out?
The power grab the AP's Jalonick blandly identified in her final paragraph is even more important. Where in the Constitution does the government get "the power to decide what kinds of foods may be sold in schools"? And it's worse than the AP reporter indicates. There's every reason to believe that, if so inclined, federal nannies/ninnies could start dictating what gets sold at athletic and other school events (say good-bye to Coke and Pepsi), even if the sellers are volunteer fundraising groups. Bake sales? Better get used to croissants, because those doughnuts, brownies, and cupcakes could be forbidden.
As is the case with so much other legislation which has delegated power to bureaucrats, the misnamed "nutrition" bill can and likely will be used as a disqualifying wedge against disfavored groups. In this case, it seems likely that the food police will give rich public schools, private schools, and charter schools a much harder time, while leaving favored public schools mostly alone. It's also not inconceivable that determined apparatchiks might decide that the legislation gives them the authority to harass families who home school their kids by monitoring their every meal. Why not?
The legislation is a classic example of supposedly good intentions getting hijacked for statist purposes. Don't expect to read that take in the establishment press any time soon.
Cross-posted at BizzyBlog.com.