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     Free lunch: “There is no such thing as a free lunch.”— Milton Friedman, American economist and Nobel Prize winner.

It would require a cold heart indeed to deny food to children.

Kids from poor households need food in order to stay healthy and do better in school.

No question.

In a perfect world, everyone, especially schoolchildren, would get three balanced meals a day.

However, the Community Eligibility Program, authorized in 2010 by Congress, is an overreach. It provides free breakfast and lunch to ALL children in qualifying districts. Not just kids from families on public assistance, but kids from households that could easily afford to pay their own way.

When the new academic year began a few weeks ago in South Dakota, more than 100 schools were participating in the program. While many of these schools are on American Indian reservations, where poverty is a way of life, a significant number are not. Seven schools in Rapid City qualify, for example, and 13 in Sioux Falls. Huron, Watertown and other towns also are on the list.

To quality for CEP, 40 percent of a school’s students must come from households receiving public assistance, such as SNAP – Supplementary Nutrition Assistance Program, or TANF, Temporary Assistance of Needy Families.

But the central question isn’t if poor students deserve help. That’s obvious. But why would Congress pass a law that uses tax dollars for meals for all kids, not just the needy ones? There are two reasons, according to officials I spoke to and information from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

First, to eliminate the “shame” that kids receiving free meals are subjected to, and second, to relieve the school district from paperwork.

However, as one state official acknowledged, the process for keeping needy kids’ names confidential is effective, though kids do talk, which is unavoidable. And, no program comes without documentation and processing. Are those reasons sufficient to spend taxpayer money on those who don’t need it?

Not that this is unusual. Recently, Sen. Rand Paul pointed out that the federal government (taxpayers) had spent $15 million helping train cashiers at Walmart stores in Mexico.  Does this make sense to anyone? Can’t Walmart afford to train its own employees?

Well-meaning federal programs have run amuck, but this is yesterday’s news. It’s been going on for decades, which is one reason the country is saddled with a $21 trillion debt.

A better approach would be to redouble efforts protecting poorer kids’ identities, where needed, and strike a small blow for common sense in government.

Sept. 19, 2018