A new GOP push to dramatically cut federal spending for summer school lunch programs comes after years of right-wing media misinformation about and attacks against funding for school lunch programs.
On May 19, House Republicans proposed an agriculture budget that would cut the summer lunch program for low-income schoolchildren in urban areas and would require the Agriculture Department to “establish a waiver process for local school districts who have found it too costly to comply with tougher nutrition standards for school lunch and breakfast programs,” according to Politico (emphasis added):
In the case of nutrition programs, the House bill seeks to open the door for starchy, white potatoes to be added to the list of qualified vegetables under the WIC supplemental feeding program for pregnant women and their young children. The Agriculture Department would also be required to establish a waiver process for local school districts which have found it too costly to comply with tougher nutrition standards for school lunch and breakfast programs.
And in a surprising twist, the bill language specifies that only rural areas are to benefit in the future from funding requested by the administration this year to continue a modest summer demonstration program to help children from low-income households -- both urban and rural -- during those months when school meals are not available.
These proposed cuts echo years of right-wing media attacking the need for summer lunch programs, and school lunch programs in general. As far back as 2010, radio host Rush Limbaugh challenged the Summer Food Service programs, suggesting hungry children from low-income families can “dumpster dive” for food (emphasis added):
LIMBAUGH: I think, you know what we're going to do here, we're going to start a feature on this program: “Where to find food.” For young demographics, where to find food. Now that school is out, where to find food. We can have a daily feature on this. And this will take us all the way through the summer. Where to find food. And, of course, the first will be: “Try your house.” It's a thing called the refrigerator. You probably already know about it. Try looking there. There are also things in what's called the kitchen of your house called cupboards. And in those cupboards, most likely you're going to find Ding-Dongs, Twinkies, Lays ridgy potato chips, all kinds of dip and maybe a can of corn that you don't want, but it will be there. If that doesn't work, try a Happy Meal at McDonald's. You know where McDonald's is. There's the Dollar Menu at McDonald's and if they don't have Chicken McNuggets, dial 911 and ask for Obama.
There's another place if none of these options work to find food; there's always the neighborhood dumpster. Now, you might find competition with homeless people there, but there are videos that have been produced to show you how to healthfully dine and how to dumpster dive and survive until school kicks back up in August. Can you imagine the benefit we would provide people?
Fox News has also voiced opposition to the summer lunch program and attempted to gin up controversy about the program by baselessly speculating that it was a “come one, come all” invitation for taxpayer-funded meals that ineligible children would exploit. Last year, Fox's Stuart Varney criticized summer lunch programs, ignoring the fact that such programs play an instrumental role in reducing child hunger.
The right-wing media's campaign against school lunches extends beyond summer. Fox and others have previously asked if children should work for school meals and claimed free school meal programs hurt low-income kids, yet ignored their usual lunch stance when it involved students who usually pay for their lunch.
Food insecurity affects millions of children -- 10 percent of households by USDA data-- and reports hold that hunger is on the rise in many U.S. cities. Studies show that child hunger impairs their academic achievement, facts that right-wing media overlook in coverage that provides public cover for harsh GOP cuts.