Georgia Congressman Jack Kingston wants children to learn that there is no such thing as a free lunch.
In his remarks to the Jackson County Republican Party, the Republican congressman proposed that low-income children should earn their subsidized meals by sweeping the cafeteria floor.
"On the Agriculture Committee we have jurisdiction over the school lunch," Kingston (who chaired the House Appropriations subcommittee from 2011 to 2012 that oversees agriculture funding, including the school lunch and school breakfast programs) told party activists. "The school lunch program has a 16% error rate. The school lunch program is very expensive. Of course it looks good compared to the school breakfast program that has a 25% error rate."
"But one of the things I've talked to the Secretary of Agriculture about: 'Why don't you, you know, have the kids pay a dime, pay a nickel to instill in them that there is, in fact, no such thing as a free lunch. Or maybe sweep the floor in the cafeteria.'"
Kingston, who is no longer on the Agriculture Committee or the Appropriations Agriculture subcommittee, suggested that the federal school lunch program should not be giving free handouts to children of impoverished families.
"I understand that that would be an administrative problem, and I understand that it would probably lose you money. But think what we would gain as a society in getting people -- getting the myth out of their head that there is such a thing as a free lunch," he said.
Children from families with incomes at or below 130% of the federal poverty line are eligible for free lunches. Students from families with incomes between 130% and 185% of the poverty level can receive lunches at reduced prices. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 18.9 million students receive free lunches and another 2.6 million receive reduced fee lunches.
As the hunger crisis in the nation grows, with 83% of polled cities reporting an increasing demand for food assistance in 2013, another study found that three-quarters of U.S. teachers say their students regularly show up to school hungry. The study also shows that free-and reduced-price breakfast programs are hugely under-enrolled, with only half of children eligible for free breakfasts actually receiving them.
His office emphasized Kingston's own upbringing in a statement.
"It is sad that trying to have a productive conversation about instilling a strong work ethic in the next generation of Americans so quickly devolves into the usual name-calling partisan hysteria," Kingston's communications director, Chris Crawford, said. "Having worked from a young age himself, Congressman Kingston understands the value of hard work and the important role it plays in shaping young people."
Kingston is seeking his party's nomination for Georgia's Senate race next year to replace retiring Senator Saxby Chambliss.