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Conservatives for Malnourished Children

By Matthew Yglesias  

"Conservatives for Malnourished Children"

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One thing that’s really struck me over the course of the Great Recession is the extent to which conservatives are willing to train their small government eye on the cause of nutrion assistance for children. For example, my colleague Melissa Boteach recently observed that it’s illogical to stop giving poor children subsidized lunches just because it’s summer vacation. Children need to eat lunch during all seasons of the year. Seems like a fairly uncontroversial point, and to her credit Katie Couric from CBS News picked the story up on her blog last week observing “[t]he last day of school shouldn’t mean last call for lunch.”

For her trouble, she’s slammed by Newsbusters’ Ken Shepherd in an item headlined “CBS’s Couric Dutifully Parrots Left-wing Center for American Progress Study.”

You might think from that headline that Shepherd has some gripe with the method of the CAP study. He turns out not to, however, since the basic fact that the school lunch program doesn’t operate when there’s no school is pretty unassailable and the analytic conclusion that children need food during the summertime is also hardly something Boteach pulled out of the Communist Manifesto. Instead, his issue with our call to give kids food during the summer is purely ideological:

Of course nowhere in her Notebook item did Couric weigh whether this might be a matter better left to state and local governments — especially when the federal government is drowning in red ink — or better yet, to parents themselves.

The federal government, of course, is “drowning in red ink” because it’s permitted to borrow money. State and local governments are not. Parents themselves, too, are constrained by the ups and downs of the economy. So when unemployment rises to 10 percent, lots of parents end up with less money than they previously had and need more help taking care of their kids. At this exact same time, state and local governments are less able than ever to afford to provide services—they need to cut back on spending and raise taxes. But the federal government has an opportunity to step in and borrow money at very low interest rates in order to invest in a generation of properly-nourished children. It ought to be a no-brainer.

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