By John Klar
When schools closed in Vermont, lunches were provided to students across the state — often by buses that delivered food instead of picking up children. The rationale was that some students depended on school meals for nutritional needs: as the Department of Health and Agency of Education justified: “the ongoing economic impacts of COVID-19 may mean that many more children are currently facing food insecurity at home.” (p. 31). But this effort has been costly and inequitable — both financially and environmentally.
Overspending, inefficiencies, and unequal distribution of COVID funds are themselves “ongoing economic impacts” that will ensure food insecurity persists for our children. Part of the 35% COVID-fueled increase in the national debt has been caused by a floodgate of benefits created with borrowed funds. “Normal” filters against fiscal abuse were set aside when COVID struck, using the “food insecurity” mantra.
Huge waste has resulted, as seen in Vermont: School buses were used to deliver meals. This was profoundly uneconomical, in both monetary and ecological terms. Meals could have been delivered with light trucks or vans at about 17.5 mpg, instead of diesel-engined buses. By enviromentalists’ own standards:
According to U.S. EPA, diesel exhaust from school buses contains pollutants that contribute to ozone formation, acid rain and global climate change. In addition, the fine particulate matter from diesel engines can cause lung damage, especially in children, and contributes to haze. … Buses are the safest way to get children to school, but they’re also fuel hogs that get only 4 to 6 miles per gallon.
Eligibility requirements for meal assistance were abandoned. Meals have been provided at public expense to families with ample financial means to avert “food insecurity. This is grossly inequitable, but not one word of criticism has been heard.
The emotional appeal of “feed the children” again eclipses critical thought. The same government that seeks to mandate electric school buses to avert climate change dispatched a fleet of diesel-fueled school buses to deliver lunches! Was that in the best interests of children? Employing the National Guard’s tanks would have been comparably efficient.
Will Vermont deliver meals by school bus on weekends? (Why not? Some children may have food security, after all.) Babysitters and therapists? Vermont has moved to expand state subsidization of pre-school, and as of last week, daycare. The daycare bill provides subsidies for those who earn 200% of the federal poverty guidelines: but there is no provision for funding: indeed, the laws are being proposed before anyone even knows what it will cost!
It is not heartless to ask how public services are to be efficiently and fairly provided — it is heartless not to — especially toward the children whose welfare is invoked to plunge their future economy into spiraling debt. Regressive taxation hurts the poor, but Vermont’s progressive elites remain oblivious to math.
Vermont families with million-dollar incomes did not require free lunches during COVID. Tracking eligibility would have been easy enough — tracking COVID was new, but income eligibility was already in place for federal meal programs. Vermont’s busing guidelines said nothing of monitoring eligibility, though later the federal government created a nationwide waiver — there was never any effort to distribute these public services based on economic need.
Initially the feds said they were maintaining equity requirements:
USDA has clarified that students who do not live in area-eligible areas may only receive delivery of meals if they qualify for free and reduced meals. ….Some Vermont SFAs have planned to conduct delivery routes from area-eligible sites throughout their districts, to include either households or bus stops in non-area eligible locations. The new guidance from USDA is clear that when delivering to households in non-area eligible locations, only meals delivered to households who qualify for free and reduced meals may be claimed for reimbursement.
Nevertheless, recommended procedures to collect names were not implemented. On March 29, a national waiver was implemented:
The waiver requires that the State agency must have a plan for ensuring that new meal sites are targeting benefits to children in need, for example, children who may be newly eligible for benefits due to the economic impacts of COVID-19…. The following is the state’s plan for ensuring that new meal sites utilizing the waiver are targeted to benefit children in need.
(Though it is inscrutable how that is now achieved…. if at all).
This is not an issue of whether to feed children, but whether to feed them fairly. Not about whether to use government to feed poor kids, but whether to use it to feed filthy rich ones. Or perhaps about why citizens would entrust their financial future to any entity that used school buses to deliver meals — no business would even contemplate such absurd “policy.”
John Klar is an attorney and farmer residing in Brookfield, and the former pastor of the First Congregational Church of Westfield. This commentary originally appeared at American Thinker.