Thursday, February 26, 2009

If You’re Poor In New Mexico It’s A Cheese Sandwich For You

imageThere isn’t a single area of the economy that isn’t currently undergoing budget restraints.  This has lead to many cutbacks at a time when there are more in need of social services than ever.  For children this is often the first harsh introduction to our class based society.  Each day the media reports on the new claims for unemployment insurance as families for the first time have to deal with poverty.   This is not simply felt in a reduction of things like birthday parties, or the end of dining in restaurants.  It is felt in far more painful ways.  In many cases families have seen their incomes cut in half as for the first time one parent is experiencing an extended period of unemployment.  This  is exacerbated in that the male partner is the one most often laid off, forcing families to survive on the income of the wife or mother.  When we factor in that women routinely earn seventy cents for every dollar that a man makes, how can this not be a recipe for disaster?

According to Yahoo news,Albuquerque Public Schools last month instituted a "cheese sandwich policy," serving the alternative meals to children whose parents are supposed to be able to pay for some or all of their regular meals but fail to pick up the tab.”  The Chicago Tribune also reports that School districts in Chula Vista, Calif.; Hillsborough County, Fla.; and Lynnwood, Wash. have similar policies.

Some Albuquerque parents have pleaded with school board members to stop singling out their children because they're poor, while others are thanking the district for a policy that demands parental responsibility.

This is not about responsibility.  We have individualized poverty even though our economic structure has been set up to promote an increasingly large gap between rich and poor.  CEO’s are rewarded with multi million dollar deals for failing to maintain a company's profits and yet the individual worker is sentenced to starvation and homelessness for any possible dereliction of duty.  It is the worker that is sacrificed for the sake of capitol, with no thought about the fact that all of the essential needs in life have been commodified.  If a parent is laid off because the company that they work for is going bankrupt how are they irresponsible?

When the cold cheese sandwich policy was instituted was instituted in Chula Vista: Lunch debts in the district fell from about $300,000 in 2004 to $67,000 in 2006.   It would seem then from the reduction in debt that  the shame the children policy was a success.  What no one stopped consider is where the  money came from to eradicate individual familial debt.  What other essential needs did these kids go without to avoid the social stigma of poverty?  Their parents were openly referred to as deadbeats by the media and some children reportedly hid in the washroom to avoid the shame of being forced to eat the symbol of their poverty in the presence of their peer group.

In a time of financial retraction it is those that already already live on the margins that will be most keenly suffer.  The pro birth movement continually pushes women to give birth with no regard to the circumstances that children live with.   We claim to respect motherhood and children but in truth we do not.  If we can sentence children to public shaming because of the poverty of their parents, this speaks loudly to how much we value a child.

Though we do not have an official school lunch program in Canada, I can report that just for milk and pizza Friday that I spend close to fifty dollars a month.  The one month I considered forgoing this needless expense, I was informed by my son that there was only one child that went without and that was because he was poor.  Though he did not ask for the continuation of his pizza it was quite clear that he did not want to be shamed in front of his friends. 

If there must be a cutback then everyone should be subject to a retraction.  No one should feel ridiculed because of poverty.  Childhood is a particularly difficult time in life and the self-esteem that we develop can largely affect how we come to view ourselves in our adult lives. 

By instituting this policy the state is forcing the poor to carry a responsibility that is not of their own making.  If the economy continues to worsen this is but one of the many attacks that we will see waged upon the poor by the elite in an effort to maintain its already unfair market share.   You cannot make bricks from straw and the sooner that we realize that we need to institute a more humane method of distribution of assets, the closer we will be to having an equal society.  Socialism is not an evil, it simply means choosing to value the weakest amongst us instead of praising the false idol of money.


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