JoAnn Alumbaugh
JoAnn Alumbaugh

The following article was featured in the July/August issue of PORK Network magazine.

It seems every time we turn around, there’s a new government program designed to “help” the public. While the intent may be valid, the outcome rarely solves the problem for which a specific program was intended. That’s because programs are often short-term fixes rather than long-term solutions, and little thought is put into how one change impacts the rest of a system.

The $15 billion Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act is set to be reauthorized by Congress in September, but this is yet another program that has failed to meet its objectives. Spearheaded by Michelle Obama, the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, appears to be failing on both goals. Complaints of inedible meals, food waste and misspent funds abound.

Even though lunches are “free,” they are so unappetizing thanks to new nutrition standards that much of the food is thrown away. According to a January 2014 report by the Government Accountability Office, states most frequently cited food waste as one of the biggest challenges in implementing the program’s requirements.

Kids don’t eat what they don’t like, and being “forced” to eat fruits and vegetables is having the opposite effect: they’re eating even less of them. In a Wall Street Journal editorial, Jeff Stier, Senior Fellow at the National Center for Public Policy Research and Chicago food writer Julie Kelly, wrote: “So the students go hungry most of the day, until after school when enterprising vendors sell items like pork rinds, hot chips, or fresh corn mixed with cheese and mayonnaise from food carts outside of the school. Students don’t eat the free, healthy meals at school, remain hungry during the day, then flock to purchase the unhealthy foods the school lunches aim to replace.”

The program also wastes money. Stier and Kelly point out that one provision in the Act allows entire school districts, rather than individual families, to apply for free meals. “For instance, all of Chicago’s 400,000 public-school students receive free breakfast, lunch and a snack regardless of financial need,” they wrote.

The program has cost more money, with little to show for it. The GAO said the new standards have led to increased food costs, insufficient food storage and the need for newer kitchen equipment. Sen. John Thune (R., S.D.) said at a Senate hearing that improper payments cost taxpayers $2.7 billion in the last school year, and that number may be conservative.

The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act is creating problems rather than solving them in a worst-case scenario: Unintended consequences with few measurable benefits. Tell your elected officials to push away from the table.

For more articles and features from the July/August issue of PORK Network, click here.