Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Rant: Government Waste & Personal Responsibility

WKRG did it again!  They tweeted a FB link with the teaser, "Who says there's no such thing as a free lunch?"  The link goes to a story with this headline:  "Free Lunches for Mobile Co. Students".  Ooooh, freeeeeee.  Wow-ee.  There really is such a thing as a free lunch, after all.  Cool, man.

...But then you start to wonder... Well, but who is paying for it?  Are the owners of the Food Factory-- you know, that place where all the food gets cranked out, day after day-- donating all these meals out of the goodness of their hearts?  (Nah, just kidding.  Most of these people never think that far.  They hear "free" and, hey, why question it?  Just stick your hand out and grin.  Well, or you can gripe, instead, if your Free Stuff isn't to your liking.) 

For the relatively few who bother to read the article, this is what they'll see:
MOBILE COUNTY, ALABAMA -      No need to pack lunch money for students in Mobile County this year. All students will eat lunch for free, and Mobile County is not picking up the tab. The money will come from a federal program with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The Mobile County Public School System qualified for the Community Eligibility Provision. This program enables schools with free meals if 75% of students qualify for free or reduced-price lunches.

Parents will not have to fill out any paperwork for the free lunch. More than 59,000 students attend the 89 public schools in the Mobile County school system. According to the school system, they served 7.8 million lunches last year.

Reading the (FB) comments below the story is a (sadly, unsurprising) revelation of the kind of... ignorance?  stupidity? whatever-it-is that has put our country where it is today.

Some people, mysteriously, are not thrilled that their federal tax dollars are going to fund this program (among so many, many others).  (I agree, and I'll get into why, later.)

On the other side of the issue are the respondents (because I can guarantee you that not all of them are "readers", since they couldn't be bothered to read two paragraphs before throwing in their two cents) think it's wonderful news.  Free food!  For the children!  And no-one can complain, because the county isn't "picking up the tab"!

Then you have those who are annoyed with the complainers.  "Didn't y'all even read the story?  Gah!  It's free!"  Or to use one person's exact words: "Did any one read the article?!  Mobile county received a agriculture grant to pay for the free lunches... And what that means is that all mobile county school children will receive free lunch for this year."  Someone else replied, "So glad you pointed this out!!! It's a GRANT not costing the tax payers one dime and it's for one school year!!  These people are killing me."

...~sigh of soul-deep weariness~...

Ladies, where, exactly, do you think this magical "GRANT" money comes from, anyway?  Who, precisely, do you suppose funds grants provided by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, hmm?  Here's your answer.  Take that first part-- "U.S."-- remove the "dots" (some might call them periods, but in this modern age...)... Now what does that leave you with?  "US".  Yep, us.  We're the ones paying for this.

You're welcome to have your own reaction to this news, but please, for the sake of my sanity, don't persist in this ridiculous notion that the lunches are, ooooh, miraculously FREE, and that the rest of us have no stake in the matter.  We do. 

There's another type of person commenting, too-- those who acknowledge that taxpayers are footing the bill, but think it's great that our tax money is going to this project instead of "War" or "Big Oil", as it surely would, otherwise.  (Yep, those are the three options: War-Making, Big Oil, or Feed the Children.)  Anyone who questions this spending is a bad, selfish, stingy, awful person-- the kind of person who lives to complain about welfare and delights at the thought of snatching food from the mouths of children.  How dare you call yourself a Christian, in fact?!

Well, if we weren't funding grants of this kind-- and others that, I'll admit, are even more infuriating, wasteful, and unnecessary-- we'd be paying less in taxes to begin with.   How about we get to keep more of our own money and spend it as we see fit?  Maybe more people would be able to feed their own kids, then.

Sidetrack:  Seriously, though, how much does it cost to pack a lunch for an elementary-aged kid?  They don't eat that much, at that age.  My parents paid for three kids' lunches-- and breakfasts, suppers, and snacks, too, of course-- all through our childhoods.  I usually brought lunch from home, and I was fine with that.  (Honestly, most of the time, I preferred the contents of my packed lunches to whatever the cafeteria was serving.)  Mom shopped carefully to stay within a budget.  My parents did what had to be done to ensure we were fed.  I'm sure that sometimes that meant they didn't get to do or buy things they'd have enjoyed, but they had a set of priorities.  Why, oh why, can't almost all other people do the same?

If you are truly needy-- elderly, infirm, beset with unpredictable problems, temporarily unable to provide for yourself-- I don't have a problem with our collectively providing you with the necessities.  I do expect that you be truly needy, though-- not wasting money on "wants" and then sticking your hand out when the cost of providing for those "wants" leaves you with too little to pay for "needs".  Also, whenever possible, I expect that you work toward getting off welfare.  It should be a stop-gap measure only. 

I will not be happy to provide for you if you look upon welfare as an entitlement.  I will not give cheerfully if you are careless and have more children than you can support-- often getting pregnant again when you supposedly can't feed the children you already have.  (I will be furious, actually, if you raise your brood of children to believe that this-- living on welfare-- is the way things are supposed to be-- that there's nothing better to strive for-- unless you're lucky enough to win the lottery or make it big in sports/entertainment.)  I will be angry if you're buying expensive luxury items with your welfare card.  (If we can make do with cheaper foods, by golly, you'd better be doing the same.  You make that money stretch or you give it back.) I will be really angry if you're scamming the system-- selling your welfare card to someone for cash, for instance.  That's theft, plain and simple, and I don't take kindly to being robbed.

Because I am unhappy about the current state of our welfare programs, I guess I'm just not Christian enough.  Oh well. ...Also, I guess I missed that Sunday School lesson that teaches you to keep giving and giving, without consideration to how it's being used.  Charity is part of Christianity, it's true, but charity should be tempered with common sense-- and if it's taken from you against your will, it's no longer really charity.  (It's not doing the recipients any long-term favors, either.  Living on welfare for too long makes you complacent-- takes away the will to work for something better.  If you grow up on the system, you may not even realize that there's another, better way to live.)

Lately, I find that charitable impulses wither in my heart.  It's hard to feel charitable when you see the waste-- the sense of entitlement.  It's not easy to feel like giving of your own volition when the government forces you (through taxes) to "donate" so much to causes and people you don't support.  ...I'm sorry, but if that makes me a bad person, I'm getting worse by the year!

P.S.  And to those who so kindly remark that anyone who has a problem with this is the type of person who would actually be happy to see these poor, innocent little angels dropped straight from HEAVEN go hungry, just to spite their irresponsible parents...  Here's the thing:  I don't believe for a minute that most of these parents are incapable of feeding their kids.  If it comes down to it, most can make adjustments-- even a sacrifice or two-- and those kids will be fed.  (Maybe they'll think twice before having another kid, too, if they know the rest of us are done filling in for the deadbeat baby-daddies.)

For the ones who honestly can't provide a lunch, yes, you need to have a safety net in place.  (Very, very few people would be willing to see a child go hungry and not stop to help.)  The key is that it needs to be a sufficient but spartan and temporary safety net-- not a perpetual bouncy-house.  And yes, I know that I am SO MEAN for not wanting to support millions of someone else's kids forever.