A federal initiative that gives all public school students, regardless of family income, free lunch has largely been applauded, but the school board in Waukesha, Wisconsin has made the decision to opt out of the program. This has parents enraged. USA Today reports:

Administrators opted into the program last year but school board members intervened and hit the brakes this time around.

“As we get back to whatever you want to believe normal means, we have decisions to make,” Joseph Como, president of the school board, said in a meeting. “I would say this is part of normalization.” 

Board member Karin Rajnicek said the free program made it easy for families to “become spoiled.” Darren Clark, assistant superintendent for business services, said he feared there would be a “slow addiction” to the service.

The USDA initially put this program into place during the Trump administration to make sure children had access to nutritious food during the COVID pandemic. The Biden administration has kept the program going through the current school year.

The initiative has meant parents don’t need to file paperwork, or list their income and job status, in order to have their children qualify for free lunch. Instead, the government reimburses school districts for all student lunches.

The Washington Post spoke with Ioana Marinescu, an economist at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Social Policy and Practice about the district’s decision not to participate:

Because participants do not have to prove that their families have lower incomes, she said, there is not an incentive to rely on these programs.

“If anything, it’s the opposite effect,” she said. “The one that’s based on conditions because it’s required to have low income might create the disincentives the board is talking about, but the universal one is less likely to create disincentives.”

She adds, “The income families do not spend on school lunches, Marinescu said, can be poured into finding better job opportunities and into community improvement.” And “moving to a universal program can provide further advantages: giving a meal to children whose families do not qualify but would still benefit and those who are deterred from filling the application because of the stigma.”

MSNBC’s Joy Reid put the school board members who voted against the free lunch on her “Absolute Worst” list. She quipped, “we wouldn’t want hungry kids to become spoiled or addicted to foodit takes a particular type of person to look someone in need in the eye and then just turn your back on them and say go hungry, stop being so hungry. Why do you want food? Because they really do believe there is no such thing as a free lunch.”

The ABC affiliate in Milwaukee has more above about the protests that followed the board’s decision.