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I just read a story about comments made by Kate O’Beirne, MSNBC talking head and editor of the conservative National Review. Ms. O’Beirne moderated a Republican strategy session (The 112th Congress and The New Promise of American Life: Less from Washington, More of Ourselves) at the Hudson Institute Friday. During the discussions, she said the following (scroll down for the link to the actual audio from the event):

“My question is what poor excuse for a parent can’t rustle up a bowl of cereal and a banana? I just don’t get why millions of school children qualify for school breakfasts unless we have a major wide spread problem with child neglect. If that many parents are incapable of pulling together a bowl of cereal and a banana, then we have problems that are way bigger than [that]– that problem can’t be solved with a school breakfast because we have parents who are just criminally … criminally negligent with respect to raising children. And yet that’s the kind of program that has bi-partisan support.”

Wow, and WOW. The sad part is that we have pages and pages of research that shows well-fed children learn better, and when kids learn better they have a better chance of pulling themselves out of poverty, stopping the cycle, and becoming tax-paying Americans.

My family would have qualified for free breakfast and lunch when I was little. My mom never signed us up because she was too proud. I wish she had. We often left for school with empty stomachs. She left before 8 a.m. to go to work. We got ourselves ready in the morning including fixing our own breakfasts. I can tell you with 100 percent certainty that my mother was NOT criminally negligent. She was a working mom who did everything in her power for us, but she wasn’t making a lot of money, and sometimes that meant we struggled. Since when is being poor a criminal offense?

I have written about this before, but I can remember weeks where on Tuesday we would run out of milk knowing we had to wait until Friday to get some. (Supermarkets didn’t take credit cards in the late 70s and early 80s.) So we went without milk. How nice it would have been to go to school and have a little carton of milk and a packet of cereal waiting for me. And today I know for a fact that there are plenty of kids living what I went through.

As Raw Story points out, in September the U.S. Census Bureau released the latest poverty numbers. Last year, 14.3 percent of the population was living below the poverty line, a 15-year high. That means in 2009 43.6 million people were living in poverty, up from 39.8 million in 2008. “The third consecutive annual increase in the number of people in poverty,” according to the Census Bureau’s report.

Some of those folks were laid off. Some of them are uneducated. Some are sick. Some desperately want to work, but can’t find a job. Some have seen their unemployment benefits run out. Some have been foreclosed upon. I know there are plenty of people who think that people should take care of themselves, and if they can’t, screw ‘em. I am not one of them. I think, especially in this season of giving, that we should always be looking to take care of those less fortunate than others. Because you never know what life is going to throw you. And so I say to Ms. O’Beirne: The only criminal here is YOU. Only a criminal could display such depraved indifference for human life, especially the tiniest and most helpless of our society: our children. You should be ashamed of yourself. I know I am ashamed for you.

What’s your take on this issue? I’d like to know. BTW: You can listen to the discussion here. Listen to around the 54 minute mark.

5 Responses to “It Isn’t Criminal to Be Poor”

  1. Great points.

    I know it’s a point of pride for conservatives to be financially careful, and I respect that (even if they’ve become quite profligate in their modern incarnation). But when did it become a point of pride – even a litmus test – for them to be cruel?

  2. Donald says:

    As much as I love disagreeing with you, on this I can’t you are right. Children should not have breakfast and lunch taken away from them. I can only hope that this woman was trying to make some bigger point and was taken out of context. Being poor is not a crime and children who can’t help themselves because of some misfortune in their family or even some dysfunction that might even be criminal still need and deserve our help.

  3. wendy says:

    Chances are Kate O’Beirne doesn’t spend much time in the supermarket shopping for cereal and bananas and doesn’t have to work at figuring out how to pay for them. Thank you so much for putting an important topic into perspective.

  4. Olivia says:

    “I just don’t get why millions of school children qualify for school breakfasts unless we have a major wide spread problem with child neglect.”

    There is a wide spread problem with child neglect, but it isn’t the parents doing it.

  5. Meghan says:

    Is she trying to imply that parents have access to food stamps, WIC, or other government food programs, and therefore it is a redundancy to provide food for the kids at school? Never mind that those programs are usually woefully inadequate. (As a personal challenge I tried to feed my husband and I off of a food stamps equivalent budget – I managed, but barely, and I had the time to make EVERYTHING from scratch, not something a busy parent can do. Plus I had an herb garden and a couple of tomato plants.)

    It sounds as if she thinks that the parents have the food and are neglecting to feed their children. Because there are so many parents who intentionally starve their kids….right.

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