Last week, Heritage Foundation Senior Fellow Robert Rector went head to head with TV personality Tom Colicchio of Top Chef at a House Education and Labor Committee hearing, both testifying about proposed increases to federal funding for child nutrition. Unfortunately, unlike the television show that results in one contestant coming out on top, no one wins with this new policy.
The $8 billion bill claims to expand food assistance to low-income school children in order to fight hunger and prevent unhealthy eating. The more likely outcome, however, is simply the creation of yet another costly federal welfare program that will increase burden on taxpayers and grow government dependency—all at a time when the national debt is skyrocketing.
In his remarks to the committee, Chef Colicchio stated that passage of this bill would provide a great stimulus to the economy.
Rector, on the other hand, pointed out that the federal government already spends $30,000 per low-income household on welfare assistance each year. This includes money that goes towards a myriad of government food assistance programs, such as Food Stamps, the School Breakfast program, the School Lunch program, the WIC (Women, Infant and Children) program, the Child Care Food Program, the Nutrition Program for the Elderly, the Summer Food Service Program, the Commodity Supplemental Food Program; TEFAP (the Emergency Food Assistance Program), the Needy Families food program, the Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program, and the Special Milk Program. The total cost of these programs (not counting state money): $59.2 million in fiscal year 2008 alone.
Despite the numerous food programs already in existence, the number of children in the United States that actually experience what the USDA refers to as “food insecurity” is in reality quite low. Only one child in 150 will miss at least one meal in a given month due to food shortages in his or her household. Furthermore, only one child in a thousand goes an entire day in a year’s time without eating due to household food shortages. Thus, for politicians to claim that there is widespread hunger in the United States is far from accurate.
However, despite these facts and despite the size of the current national debt, proponents of increased funding for food programs are insisting that it is absolutely necessary, regardless of the cost. On top of this, several advocate expanding food services beyond the proposed program in order to provide food on weekends, during school vacations, and at dinnertime. Discussion also centered on how to increase the number of participants and how to implement such practices as automatic enrollment and a streamlined application process.
The proposed child nutrition policy follows a familiar, failed recipe of overblown federal spending, greater government dependency, and increased taxpayer burden. Instead of adding to the growing waistline of the welfare state, Congress should take steps to shrink the burden on the nation’s taxpayers. The federal government should decrease dependency and help people move from poverty to self-reliance. Failure to do so would result in greater debt and a weaker nation. If that happens, no one comes out on top.