Republican Jack Kingston, the Georgia congressman running for that state’s open senate seat next year, is struggling to defend his call for a return to child labor for school kids who eat lunch for free.
The congressman is “sad” that his proposal has ignited “the usual partisan hysteria,” a spokesperson says.
The federally funded National School Lunch program provides no-cost or reduced-price lunches to almost 20 million low-income schoolchildren every school day.
In a speech last weekend, Kingston called for children who receive their lunches as part of the program to pay a small amount or “sweep the floor in the cafeteria” so they don’t grow up believing the “myth” that “there is such a thing as a free lunch.”
Kingston (pictured) concurs with former House speaker and Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich in his desire to teach his version of a moral lesson to underprivileged children.
Another Georgia Republican, Gingrich has been Kingston’s political mentor.
In his 2011-2012 presidential campaign, Gingrich made bringing back child labor part of his platform. He called child labor laws “truly stupid” and said that they “entrap” low-income children who otherwise could be put to work.
To create employment for children, Gingrich proposed firing unionized school janitors and replacing them with children.
While Kingston didn’t go that far, he said that forcing low-income kids who qualify for the school lunch program to sweep floors would create a “gain” for society.
Kingston also cited the cost of the lunch program.
“The school lunch program has a 16% error rate,” he said. “The school lunch program is very expensive.”
However, the error rate includes not only overpayments, but underpayments as well, by the U.S. Department of Agriculture which administers funding for the lunch program. Taking out the underpayment mistakes, the USDA overpays for the school lunch program by about 8 percent, or $807 million.
The total cost of the school lunch program in 2012 was $11.6 billion. By contrast to how much it spent to feed school children, the government spends an estimated average of $20 billion annually on nuclear weapons.
After news of Kingston’s weekend speech went public, a spokesperson for the U.S. Rep. dismissed the controversy.
“It is sad that trying to have a productive conversation about instilling a strong work ethic in the next generation of Americans so quickly devolves into the usual name calling partisan hysteria,” said Chris Crawford in a statement on Kingston’s behalf. “Having worked from a young age himself, Congressman Kingston understands the value of hard work and the important role it plays in shaping young people.”
Kingston, 68, is the former vice-president of a Savannah-based insurance brokerage but is now a professional politician, serving in the U.S. House for nearly 21 years, since his first election in 1992.
Sources: Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Channel 11 Atlanta, Los Angeles Times, Project Vote Smart, Nuclear Threat Initiative, U.S. Department of Agriculture