Monday, June 10, 2013

The Hungry and the Hard-Hearted in Texas

Laws passed by the 83rd Texas Legislature are a mixed bag - as are all legislative sessions. 

There are those of us who are dismayed by the craven capitulation of House representatives to the payday loan industry. The failure to strengthen legislation due to the full court press of lobbyists representing the industry is yet more evidence of what is wrong with the political process. 

But one thing they did get right was passage of the law to increase free breakfast program in public and charter schools throughout our state. And that's where the rub comes in. The 'My Opinion' segment of this weeks "Inside Texas Politics" program features Chris Krok, expressing an opinion against the free breakfast program! The idea is that it will increase 'dependency'...(you can see it at about 9 minutes into the video). 

For old-timers who remember the old Superman TV series: in the words of Daily Planet editor Perry White, 'Great Ceasar's ghost!'

Clearly Mr. Krok doesn't know that nearly 20 percent of Texas households face food insecurity. In fact in the 30th, 29th, 9th and 20th congressional districts food insecurity approaches 30 percent! Are we to believe that the reason why nearly 20-30 percent of Texans don't have enough to eat is because they don't try hard enough?

The examples Krok gives are laughable. He's had a hard time and has overcome so everyone else should be able to. He's seen one person say he had other priorities while standing in front of his SUV. Was he not supposed to have one? What was the make and model? Was it his? Was it borrowed? He raises the question whether or not these people whose children might get a free breakfast have cable or cell phones. So in order to be 'poor' you can no longer have technological necessities. Let's exacerbate the isolation of economic poverty by insisting that the poor be cut off from communication as well!

Free breakfasts have been around since 1966 and has been an entitlement since 1975. Making sure children have access to a healthy breakfast have a broad range of benefits. It is hard to believe that we can be concerned about test scores, teacher accountability and college and workforce readiness and not see this as an public school investment that we can't afford not to make!

As for creating a 'culture of dependency', it's interesting that it's only when it comes to the poor that we have such concerns. 

Two years ago, John Hoffmeister the former CEO of Shell Oil, reiterated his 2008 testimony before Congress that big oil companies don't need the tax subsidies they receive from the government. Of course, oil executives have since defended as essential, the $21 billion in tax subsidies  - despite record profits. 

'Culture of dependency'? I think there are some other areas to be concerned about before you get to hungry children. 

The Texas Legislature in expanding the free breakfast program, has essentially recaptured federal dollars (a rationale we need to consider when it comes to Medicare Expansion). And it ensures that children don't have to start the school day distracted by hunger. 

Anyone of us can point to extreme examples of bad behavior to avoid doing things that make sense. We can pull out snippets of our own success narratives to show how others can pull themselves up by their bootstraps. And when you want to mask insensitivity in 'common sense conservatism' it's easy to talk about a culture of dependency. 

Thank goodness those people didn't prevail in the 83rd Texas least on this issue.

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