Fri Feb 27th, 2009 at 05:21:59 AM EST
Whenever anyone's asked me about attempting to get help from the US government, I've given this advice: have someone beat you in the head with a bat or similar heavy object (any repeated blunt force trauma will do) and, while you're still reeling, have them hand you a block of cheese.
You'll get the same result -- headache, trauma, cheese -- but without the emotional humiliation and in a lot less time.
I don't know what the deal is -- if it's just a US thing or a worldwide phenomenon -- but in my experience as the child of a Welfare Mother, whatever happened we always just ended up with cheese. So perhaps my own personal issues have something to do with why I got so pissed off reading this AP article today:
The 'Cheese Sandwich Diet' for School Kids
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. -- A cold cheese sandwich, fruit and a carton of milk might not seem like much of a meal -- but that's what's on the menu for students in New Mexico's largest school district without their lunch money.
Faced with mounting unpaid lunch charges in the economic downturn, Albuquerque Public Schools last month instituted a "cheese sandwich policy," serving the alternative meals to children whose parents are supposed to be able to pay for some or all of their regular meals but fail to pick up the tab.
Honestly, just thinking of cheese sandwiches is making me a little nauseous, lo these many years later. Such is the power of Poor Kid Lunch Trauma. I'd thought we'd made some strides in this area, to not let kids go hungry but also to spare them unneeded attention and humiliation.
It used to be common for schools to give poor kids cheese sandwiches, then someone came up with the genius idea that they should have hot lunches like everyone else.
Schools started giving ID cards to low-income kids with which they could get free lunches, but even though the hot lunches were the same, the cash kids could still stigmatize the, now card-carrying, poor kids.
Then advancing technology finally solved the problem -- all kids would purchase their lunches with a debit card and no one could tell which were the cash ones that parents had paid for into an account, and which were the free ones, obtained after a lengthy qualifying process.
When I first heard about the debit-card hot lunch system I was so relieved -- I thought the cheese sandwich was finally dead.
Such policies have become a necessity for schools seeking to keep budgets in the black while ensuring children don't go hungry. School districts including those in Chula Vista, Calif.; Hillsborough County, Fla.; and Lynnwood, Wash.; have also taken to serving cheese sandwiches to children with delinquent lunch accounts.
So apparently these are the kids whose parents had been paying into their lunch accounts, but for one reason or another have stopped.
And then we have the usual "fair and balanced" routine:
Critics argue the cold meals are a form of punishment for children whose parents can't afford to pay. Parents who qualify for free meals are not affected.
"We've heard stories from moms coming in saying their child was pulled out of the lunch line and given a cheese sandwich," said Nancy Pope, director of the New Mexico Collaborative to End Hunger. "One woman said her daughter never wants to go back to school."
Some Albuquerque parents have tearfully pleaded with school board members to stop singling out their children because they're poor, while others have flooded talk radio shows thanking the district for imposing a policy that commands parental responsibility.
You know, I'm just so sick to death of hearing from these filthy talk-radio fucks. I mean, honestly, what kind of twisted assholes could interpret this into some bullshit right-wing crap about responsibility? Do they think parents pay for their kids lunches and just, one day, out of the blue, they're too lazy to feed their kids? How fucking stupid are they?
This is what happens in a country without a safety net -- the schools have to carry the burden:
"What you are seeing is families struggling and having a really hard time, and school districts are struggling as well," said Crystal FitzSimons of the national Food Research and Action Center.
In Albuquerque, unpaid lunch charges hovered around $55,000 in 2006. That jumped to $130,000 at the end of the 2007-08 school year. It was $140,000 through the first five months of this school year.
Charges were on pace to reach $300,000 by the end of the year. Mary Swift, director of Albuquerque's food and nutrition services, said her department had no way to absorb that debt as it had in the past
So evidently there's just a wave of irresponsibility sweeping the area.
What's worse is that it's not just those dimwits. The reason I linked to the little-known first coast news is that it had one of the only headlines that didn't make me see red. Search google news for 'cheese sandwich' and this is the headline that accompanies most of the articles -- No More Free Lunch: Schools Get Tough on Deadbeats. Seriously. Deadbeats. In an article about hungry children.
Second-grader Danessa Vigil said she will never eat sliced cheese again. She had to eat cheese sandwiches because her mother couldn't afford to give her lunch money while her application for free lunch was being processed.
"Every time I eat it, it makes me feel like I want to throw up," the 7-year-old said.
Yeah, Danessa, I know how you feel. I could throw up right now, too, and it's not just the memories of the cheese.