Rehberg’s War on Hungry Children

Written by Don Pogreba
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Others have noted the spectacle of Representative Rehberg deciding that the most important issue of fraud we need to investigate is the scourge of children perhaps receiving a fraudulent peanut butter and jelly sandwich while at school, but as a teacher, I actually know, unlike the Congressman, the impact of hunger of children. It’s devastating, harming them academically, physically, and socially.

Dr. Larry Brown, from the Harvard School of Public Health, notes that hungry children simply can’t learn:

Hungry children haven’t the capacity for normal learning and play; while their bodies are in the classroom they lack the dietary fuel required to engage meaningfully with those around them.  As a result, their cognitive abilities deteriorate not because of changes in brain structure, but due to the seemingly more “benign” cause of insufficient dietary energy.

Dr. John Cook, from the Boston Medical Center says that food insecurity leads to mental health and entanglement with the criminal justice system:

By elementary school, researchers have found that children who are hungry are four times more likely than non-hungry children to have a history of needing mental health counseling; seven times more likely to be classified as clinically dysfunctional; seven times more likely to get into fights frequently; and twelve times more likely to steal.Behavioral problems like aggression and stealing often lead to contact with the criminal justice system.

Want to hurt children and our economy? Make it more difficult for those students to get access to nutritious meals which will give them the mental acuity and physical stamina to learn.

The real crime is that not there are child bandits sneaking their way into the school lunch line, but that many students who are qualified for assistance do not receive it. Whether it’s social stigma or an inability to navigate bureaucratic red tape, many families simply do not get their children the assistance they are entitled to. In fact, making it more difficult for children to get food through faux fraud checks like those suggested by Rehberg will only make it worse.

Of course, this would just be another example of Representative Rehberg failing to understand the difficulty of poverty in the United States were it not for Rehberg’s budget for his appropriations subcommittee, which actually cuts funding for programs designed to address the fraudulent world of for-profit colleges:

There’s a provision to block Education Department rules designed to protect students and taxpayers from those for-profit colleges with the very worst records as far as student debt loads and defaults.

And there you have Representative Rehberg: we shouldn’t investigate the abuses of corporations who are ripping off consumers and the federal government for billions each year; we should make sure that children don’t get nutrition.

About the author

Don Pogreba

Don Pogreba is a seventeen-year teacher of English, former debate coach, and loyal, if often sad, fan of the San Diego Padres and Portland Timbers. He spends far too many hours of his life working at school and on his small business, Big Sky Debate.

His work has appeared in Politico and Rewire.

In the past few years, travel has become a priority, whether it's a road trip to some little town in Montana or a museum of culture in Ísafjörður, Iceland.

28 Comments

  • Back to obedience school for Dopey Reeburp! I can’t believe his handlers allow this dude off leash, for Dopey unleashed is Dopey unhinged! The dude is liable to say/do anything! He makes more sense when he’s on the sauce! Look for his handlers to keep him on a very short reign from here on out. Bad Dopey! He whizzed on the campaign again! Bad dog!

    • DRILL, BABY, DRILL! Too funny. Wait a minute. What’s that sound? Sounds like drilling. Oh wait, my bad. It’s just them tiny tummies growling! A country that worries ’bout kids rippin’ off a fifty cent SOY burger is a country after Aynus Rant’s own heart! SCREW them little buggers! The ones that survive will be Galt like! Welcome to New Galtonia!

    • Thoughtful? HArdly. Bass makes the assertion “large number of ineligible students ” then does nothing to back it up. What was reported from the compliance checks, once you weed through the chaff, is that people didn’t respond to the request for income data, so they were thrown out of the program. It is onerous for poor people to pony up documentation for their income when they don’t have any because they work for pittances that are hard to report, work for cash because their wealthy bosses don’t want to pay cash, or have no income to report. So they just say fuck it and move on.

      So you want to crank up the nanny state, Craig, so that even a peanut butter sandwich a day requires tons of paperwork from people who are sick of being pissed on by the government and the rich? All I hear is more class warfare. Let’s inspect the hell out of the poor or near poor to “discover the reasons and address them.” THEY’RE FRIGGIN’ POOR!!!

    • Yes, Craig, there is real fraud, because it’s very hard to ensure that only the right kids get free lunches. But as your article notes, even in cases where benefits were altered the cause was not proven fraud, but failure to respond to a mailing. So, to keep ones benefits during the audit process, a family has to have their correct and current address listed with the school district with mail that they reliably receive and have the ability to sort and read, be able to prove what their income is, and trust the government and school authorities enough to be willing to do so. If you work in a school, you know that the chances of all three of these things being true fall substantially as one goes further down the income scale. Again, according to the publication you cited, districts wherein parents actually responded (like Chicago) had much lower rates of benefits needing to be adjusted.

      Moreover, the random, independent sampling study done indicated about 15% of students were receiving too many benefits, and 7.5% receiving too few, and estimated that a billion dollars could be re-appropriated if there were more comprehensive checks. However, if you want to be thorough about it that means checking 31 million families more thoroughly than simply sending out a letter.; I’m not sure the resulting expense in both money, bureaucracy, and loss of privacy and trust between school districts and low income families would be worth the money saved cutting off free lunches for students who are probably on the border of the poverty line anyway.

      People who actually studied the issue left a comment on the article here : http://educationnext.org/fraud-in-the-lunchroom/

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