In the US, it seems people believe that we should never let the poor forget that they are not only poor but that it is also their fault for being so. Even children must be made to feel ashamed for essentially having poor parents. For example, about 20 million children in US schools (about 40% of all US students) qualify for free or reduced cost lunches at school because the family income is too low. This is quite a stunning figure for one of the richest countries in the world and is a stark reminder of how skewed wealth and income is here.
But one would think that one would try to shield those children and their peers from the fact that they are eligible for free lunches. The best way to do that would be to give everyone a free lunch but of course that would be a form of the dreaded socialism and will not do. Another option would be to give free lunches to those who qualify. The cut-off family income for free lunches is $31,400 for a family of four.
But the problem is that many schools offer reduced price lunches where the cut off for eligibility is $45,000 and then the question arises of what to do if parents do not pay the amount expected from them or for those who cannot afford to pay cash to get a hot lunch. What some schools do in such cases is reprehensible.
When a student doesn’t have enough money for lunch, cafeteria staff in many districts, including Antignolo’s, take away the child’s tray of hot food and hand the student a brown paper bag containing a cold cheese sandwich and a small milk. Some schools take away their lunch entirely.
All the other kids in the lunch line know what’s going on. Getting that brown bag is the lunch line equivalent of being branded with a Scarlet Letter. It’s been dubbed “school lunch shaming.”
The USDA is urging districts to stop “embarrassing” and “singling out” students who don’t have enough money for lunch. On Monday, US Senator Tom Udall of New Mexico introduced a bill in Congress, the Anti-Lunch Shaming Act, to ban schools from singling children out “by requiring them to wear wristbands or hand stamps or do extra chores” if they have unpaid lunch bills.
Schools resort to cheese-sandwich shaming to get lunch debts paid off because they have to fork over the money at the end of the year to cover whatever debt parents don’t pay.
We provide free textbooks and bus transportation to all students irrespective of income. So why not free lunches? True, it is not cheap to do so but surely it is worthwhile to prevent children being shamed in front of their peers just for being poorer than them. I suspect that many politicians think that people are poor because they are lazy or otherwise unworthy and shaming them and their children is the way to get them to stop being poor.