National and Social Security and the Right to Eat
Section 2 of the National School Lunch Act of 1946 reads,
It is hereby declared to be the policy of Congress, as a measure of national security, to safeguard the health and well-being of the Nation’s children and to encourage the domestic consumption of nutritious agricultural commodities and other food, by assisting the States, through grants-in-aid and other means, in providing an adequate supply of foods and other facilities for the establishment, maintenance, and expansion of nonprofit school-lunch programs.
In the hearings for this Act,Major General Lewis B. Hershey testified to Congress that 16% of Selective Service registrants in World War II were rejected from service or placed in the limited service class and that malnutrition or underfeeding played a likely role in somewhere between 40% and 60% of these cases (U.S. Congress 1945). Congress felt the need to remedy this situation and, thus, the National School Lunch Program (NSLP), under which the federal government provides cash and commodity aid to states for localities to use in serving warm lunches to students, was seen as a “measure of national security.”
I ran across this in a paper by Peter Hinrichs on the health and educational effects of the school lunch program. It’s striking to think of a program designed to help the poor as a ‘national security’ measure, but it’s true that a great deal of government action in the World War II and post-War period was justified on this basis. (I’d love to see a geneology of the ideas of social security–which originally meant something far more broad than today’s meaning of Old Age Insurance, and national security, and how the latter overcame the former as the main justification for the welfare state.)
We might compare this with the Food Stamp Act:
To strengthen the agricultural economy; to help to achieve a fuller and more effective use of food abundances; to provide for improved levels of nutrition among low-income households through a cooperative Federal-State program of food assistance to be operated through normal channels of trade; and for other purposes.
It is hereby declared to be the policy of Congress, in order to promote the general welfare, that the Nation’s abundance of food should be utilized cooperatively by the States, the Federal Government, and local governmental units to the maximum extent practicable to safeguard the health and well-being of the Nation’s population and raise levels of nutrition among low-income households. The Congress hereby finds that increased utilization of foods in establishing and maintaining adequate national levels of nutrition will tend to cause the distribution in a beneficial manner of our agricultural abundances and will strengthen our agricultural economy, as well as result in more orderly marketing and distribution of food. To effectuate the policy of Congress and the purposes of this Act, a food stamp program, which will permit those households with low incomes to receive a greater share of the Nation’s food abundance, is herein authorized.
Here the idea is that it is in the general welfare for people to have adequate nutrition. Which is true. We also see the emphasis on abundance, which made such efforts seems possible. This is also important. Of course, the better question might be – why should anyone not be able to eat? Especially in the midst of abundance (still a fair description) what possible justification would we have for telling anyone that their ability to eat is outweighed by some other consideration? While elite lawbreakers are almost never even investigated, as long as they wrongfully foreclose or engage in torture or fire employees for organizing (to take a few examples) we’re now discussing barring people from food stamps (or SNAP) for past crimes.
In today’s Senate debate on the farm bill, Senator David Vitter offered — and Senate Democrats accepted — an amendment that would increase hardship and will likely have strongly racially discriminatory effects.
The amendment would bar from SNAP (food stamps), for life, anyone who was ever convicted of one of a specified list of violent crimes at any time — even if they committed the crime decades ago in their youth and have served their sentence, paid their debt to society, and been a good citizen ever since. In addition, the amendment would mean lower SNAP benefits for their children and other family members.
And both parties are supporting increases in farm subsidies. This isn’t about ‘dependence on government’ and it’s not about ‘law and order’. It’s about punishing those at the bottom, an all too common response from elites. And it’s certainly nothing new.
Reading this, it’s hard to maintain a belief in progress.
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