HR 610, Food Stamps, and the Paternalistic State

Hey all, back again to talking about current news stories. This week, we’re going to talk about food policy and paternalism.

You may have seen a fun little copy/paste thread going around referring to HR 610, a bill Introduced by Rep. Steve King of Iowa, intended to limit the power of the US Education Department (ED), and repeal standards for school lunches. The bill is cosponsored by Rep. Andy Harris of Maryland, Rep. Trent Franks of Arizona, and Rep. Pete Olson of Texas. The copypasta I’ve seen in a few forms and shared as recently as today is as below:

~ So it Begins. The Betsy Devos Era of Education House Bill 610 makes some large changes. Please inform yourselves:
This bill will effectively start the school voucher system to be used by children ages 5-17, and starts the defunding process of public schools.
In addition the bill will eliminate the Elementary and Education Act of 1965, which is the nation’s educational law and provides equal opportunity in education.
It would repeal ESSA (Every Students Succeeds Act):
ESSA is a big comprehensive program that covers programs for struggling learners, AP classes, ESL classes, classes for minorities such as Native Americans, Rural Education, Education for the Homeless, School Safety (Gun-Free schools), Monitoring and Compliance and Federal Accountability Programs.
The Bill also abolishes the Nutritional Act of 2012 (No Hungry Kids Act) which provides nutritional standards in school breakfast and lunch.
The bill has no wording whatsoever protecting Special Needs kids, no mention of IDEA and FAPE.
Some things ESSA does for Children with Disabilities:
-Ensures access to the general education curriculum.
-Ensures access to accommodations on assessments.
-Ensures concepts of Universal Design for Learning
-Includes provisions that require local education agencies to provide evidence-based interventions in schools with consistently underperforming subgroups.
-Requires states in Title I plans to address how they will improve conditions for learning including reducing incidents of bullying and harassment in schools, overuse of discipline practices and reduce the use of aversive behavioral interventions (such as restraints and seclusion).
Please call your representative and ask him/her to vote NO on House Bill610 (HR 610) introduced by three Republican reps.
Please copy and paste (rather than share). Thanks!

The bill, as summarized by the non-partisan Congressional Research Service, is as below:

Choices in Education Act of 2017

This bill repeals the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 and limits the authority of the Department of Education (ED) such that ED is authorized only to award block grants to qualified states.

The bill establishes an education voucher program, through which each state shall distribute block grant funds among local educational agencies (LEAs) based on the number of eligible children within each LEA’s geographical area. From these amounts, each LEA shall: (1) distribute a portion of funds to parents who elect to enroll their child in a private school or to home-school their child, and (2) do so in a manner that ensures that such payments will be used for appropriate educational expenses.

To be eligible to receive a block grant, a state must: (1) comply with education voucher program requirements, and (2) make it lawful for parents of an eligible child to elect to enroll their child in any public or private elementary or secondary school in the state or to home-school their child.

No Hungry Kids Act

The bill repeals a specified rule that established certain nutrition standards for the national school lunch and breakfast programs. (In general, the rule requires schools to increase the availability of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat or fat free milk in school meals; reduce the levels of sodium, saturated fat, and trans fat in school meals; and meet children’s nutritional needs within their caloric requirements.)

This bill has only been introduced, and was introduced January 23rd and assigned to committee with no further movement as of my writing, so the panicking is a bit premature, but who am I to dig on involved citizens? Further, I agree that these actions would be bad, IF they had a chance of happening.

However, I’m fairly certain that there’s been some politician somewhere calling for the destruction of ED and the EPA and other federal agencies since their inception. Strict interpretations of the constitution and small government lovers do not allow for the regulation of education by the federal government. This isn’t anything new, excepting that we are living in a weird alternate reality where our president is Trump and us social-service-loving-liberals are shook.

Basically, I’m not too worried about the bill, but the premise is interesting. Why repeal nutrition standards for school lunches? Don’t we want our children eating healthy food? If the government is providing or subsidizing food, shouldn’t it be nutritious?

“HOW DARE WE REQUIRE FRESH FRUITS AND VEGETABLES?!” I imagine the sponsors of this bill yelling in frustration to the sky, “NEXT YOU’LL TELL ME WE HAVE TO EDUCATE THE KIDS, TOO!” 

Humor aside, seriously, what is the deal here? Is this a thinly guided pander to processed food lobby (does that exist?) for campaign funds, or shear destruction of anything the Obamas accomplished?

Anyway, reading the aforementioned copypasta over and over was interesting after hearing this story from NPR the other day. Maine has appealed to the Trump administration to allow the state to prevent its residents from purchasing soda and candy using their SNAP benefits. 5% of the state’s SNAP funds, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (commonly known as food stamps) go to soda annually, a substance which has unarguably no nutritional value. The state has wanted to place this restriction for a while, but the Obama administration shot them down, so they’re now trying their luck with the Trump team.

This dichotomy is interesting: on one hand, we have a group of Republican legislators trying to remove all food standards on a publicly administrated program, school lunches; on the other hand, there is a state appealing to the Republican federal administration to allow them to place restrictions on what can be purchased through a publicly administrated program, SNAP.

Part of what is at play is the small government and fiscal conservative factions are rubbing against each other with their logical extensions. One says that the federal government should have as little influence on our daily lives as possible. The other says that, given we do not want to allow our fellow citizens who cannot provide for themselves to starve and thus the SNAP program is a necessity, the program should be as efficient as possible, and therefore there should be restrictions as to what the funds can be used for, restricting the choices of the end user.

Another core question at play is: what is the role of the government? Is there an obligation to provide a certain standard of living, and how is this standard developed and maintained? Who does this maintenance and how?

Do we want all of our citizens simply fed, or do we want them fed healthy, nutritious foods? Do we want them to have the option to eat healthy, nutritious foods, or only to be able to purchase healthy, nutritious foods?

To what degree of choice do we give? To whom? While this question only regards now public service programs (school lunch and SNAP), the argument extends to society as a whole. The nation clearly has an obesity epidemic, which will heavily impact our future demands on the healthcare system. Do we force public assistance recipients to be healthy For the Greater Good, and allow only those who can afford soda to purchase it? What about when someone who has been able to afford soda and candy becomes so unhealthy they need medical care and can’t pay, what happens then?

To what degree of freedom are we allowed to be self destructive? Who is allowed to be self destructive, and why?

Ah, paternalism.

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