Thursday, August 18, 2011

The War on Stigmas

The City of Detroit – which has been having a dickens of a time keeping its children and other citizens alive lately – is finally getting some much-needed help from the federal government.  No, it’s not a little extra cash for cops or teachers.  It’s a brand new program to feed all students “healthy school meals” (oxymoron?), even the ones that can ostensibly afford such things.  Why?  To “reduce the stigma” of receiving a free lunch.  I don’t kid:

Michigan, Illinois and Kentucky were selected to participate through the U.S. Department of Agriculture Community Eligibility Option Program. All of Detroit Public Schools' estimated 65,800 students will receive the free food starting this fall.

An additional 600,000 students out of the state's 1.57 million students qualify for the free meals.

To be eligible for the program, a school or district must have at least 40 percent of its students receiving the free meals. School systems could opt in districtwide if they qualify or bring in individual buildings.

One of the goals is to eliminate the shame some students may feel in receiving free food, said Aaron Lavallee, U.S. Department of Agriculture spokesman.

"We've worked very hard to reduce the stigma," Lavallee said. "We're seeing a lot of working-class families who've had to turn to free school meals to feed their children. A lot of these kids are getting the bulk of their calories at school, so these programs are very important."

Yes, yes, I know I’m the asshole who complains about feeding kids.  I get that.  I’m used to it.  I’ve been called worse.  And yes, the feds (don’t) have so much money that they’ve spent tons more on other fun things for Michigan that…well…never seem to help out actual poor people (like battery plants and choo choo trains and washers and dryers for dead people).

But seriously, $4.5 billion dollars to “reduce the stigma”?  And we’re reassured that “the stigma is real” by Mark Schrupp, DPS; chief operating office because “more than 78 percent of students qualify for free food.”  Which, what?  Wouldn’t this stigmatize the kids who can actually afford their own lunches?  And doesn’t this just stigmatize the whole damn city?  We’re also told that kids skip meals to avoid this stigma, and not, you know, because they’re freaking school cafeteria meals.  (The Free Press gets the win with the photo they selected to accompany their article).  Apparently nobody at the USDA ever went to elementary school.

It’s not even the money - $4.5 bil is a drop in the bucket.  It’s the principle.  And I hate the whole “don’t spend money on this! spend it on that!” game because we can play that one forever.  But this is borderline satirical.  That our cash-strapped federal government is going to send millions to the poorest city in a broke state – one that just saw 25 people shot in a weekend and graduates about 60% of its students – to combat stigmas.

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