“Pro-Life” Legislator to Hungry Kids: Get A Job!

Jodi Jacobson

A pro-life Missouri legislator blasts plan to continue school lunches for low-income children over the summer and tells hungry children: get a job!!!!

Another in our series of Hypocrisy Live! How Legislators Pontificate About Faith and Morals But Seem Unable to Apply Them in their Own Lives or Work.

As reported this week on Think Progress and Daily Kos, pro-life State Rep. Cynthia Davis (R-MO) attacked efforts by the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services to provide school lunches this summer to  "thousands of low-income Missouri children who rely on the school cafeteria for free or reduced-price meals during the regular school year.”

Davis is the embodiment of ultra-right Republican pro-lifers who build their political fortunes railing about abortion, contraception and against taxes for any purpose, including apparently feeding the hungry children about whose lives in the womb she professes to be so concerned.  

According to Think Progress, Davis, who serves as the chairwoman of the Missouri House Special Standing Committee on Children and Families, and as Chair of the Interim Committee on Poverty, questioned whether the program is “warranted,” and extolled the hidden benefits of child hunger.  She argued:

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Who’s buying dinner? Who is getting paid to serve the meal? Churches and other non-profits can do this at no cost to the taxpayer if it is warranted. […] Bigger governmental programs take away our connectedness to the human family, our brotherhood and our need for one another. […].

Apparently, Davis is unaware that hunger exists in Missouri, much less in her own district.  But, writing in Daily Kos, Joel Berg, Director of the New York City Coalition Against Hunger, notes that:

2008, the St. Louis Food Area Food Bank had to distribute an amazing
689,929 pounds of food to food pantries and soup kitchens, most of
which were surely faith-based, in her home county of St. Charles.

He also cites federal statistics showing that one in 12
people, and one in ten children in Missouri live in homes that can’t afford enough
food. (Missouri Hunger Atlas,  Interdisciplinary Center for Food
Security http://missourifamilies.org ) and, according to Think Progress, one in five children in the state lives with persistent hunger.

Davis’ solution is to tell them to get a job.

Anyone under 18 can be eligible? Can’t they get a job during the summer
by the time they are 16? Hunger can be a positive motivator. What is
wrong with the idea of getting a job so you can get better meals?

Hunger can be a positive motivator…..?  Hmmm….it is also a factor in stunted physical and mental development, attentiveness and behavior problems at school and home, malnutrition leading to other adverse health outcomes, and other consequences with lifelong implications.

Just in case kids are not sure where to go for work, Davis offers this helpful advice:

If you work for McDonald’s, they will feed you for free during your
break. […] It really is all about increasing government spending,
which means an increase in taxes for us to buy more free lunches and

Given her proposed solution, what’s her message to those kids ages 0-16 who are not yet of age to get a job?  Just say no to hunger? Abstain from eating until you are married?

The current economic situation has deeply affected Missouri and the level of disposable income of the working poor.  According to state public health officials:

With the current economic downturn, Missouri’s Summer Food Service Program will be needed more than ever this year.

The conservative right loves to rail against taxes until it comes to their own pockets.  Berg writes:

Davis claims to decry government programs, while taking home a
government salary in excess of $31,351 a year for a part-time job.  If
Ms. Davis really thinks that "hunger can be a positive motivator,"
perhaps she should give back her salary and, after she runs out of
money to buy food, go on a hunger strike to determine whether that
gives her more motivation to get the Legislature to do more productive

For Davis, money spent on feeding children what may be their only full meal of the day is a waste of your taxpayer dollars and is a task that should just be done by churches.  But it appears that Davis does not like to do her homework because indeed religious institutions are among those using tax dollars to deliver food.  According to the press release by the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, churches are heavily involved in the program, as are civil society organizations across the spectrum:

Hundreds of local community organizations throughout the state will offer lunch as well as breakfast, during summer months to eligible children.  The meals will be solved at approximately 700 locations in Missouri, including schools, parks, YMCA facilities, Boys and Girls Clubs, churches and other places where children gather in the summertime.

Only problem is….the churches and other organizations need state and federal funding to do it.  According to Berg in the Daily Kos:

Taking apart Davis’ other arguments, a St. Louis Post-Dispatch
editorial noted that most of the summer feeding program sites are
actually hosted by churches and that the program, which is funded by
the U.S. Department of Agriculture, fed 3.7 million meals at a total
cost of less than $9.5 million last summer — “a pretty good use of
federal money.” (HT: DailyKos diarist Dem Beans)

Berg continues:

Davis not only seems oblivious to the facts, she also is oblivious to
the hypocrisy arising from her assertions versus the tenets of her own
faith. [While she] proudly touts her religious convictions, [she] ignores that
fighting hunger is a central tenet of Christianity, Judaism, Islam, and
virtually every other religious faith.

Berg, who does not work on reproductive health and rights issues, goes on to say that:

While the organization I manage, the New York City Coalition Against
Hunger, has no official position on reproductive choice, I can’t help
but note how absurd it is for a state official who claims to care so
much about the life of children in wombs to oppose a program that, by
improving the nutrition of children who are born, reduces the
likelihood that they will die early from diet-related causes.

In a recent column, Rep. Davis wrote:

Some people say we should be
satisfied in life with half-a-loaf.  But when the issue itself is
protecting innocent life, it is ludicrous to ask if we would mind
compromising our basic core values.

In response, Berg states that:

[W]hen it comes to another basic
value – that of ensuring that those children, once born, deserve the
nutrition necessary for a healthy life – she seems to be for far more
than compromising, she seems to be for eradicating that value entirely. 

In light of her charitable position on school lunches, I am personally confused as to what her basic core values would be.  Note to Representative Davis: You might change your campaign slogan to: "Cynthia Davis: protecting you from the moment of conception to the cuttting of the cord.  Then you’re on your own."

And I can’t help but think about ongoing conversations regarding giving women facing unintended pregnancies the economic support necessary not to terminate a pregnancy…..while I personally do not believe we have even begun to explore whether this is the sole motivator of women facing unintended pregnancy who choose abortion, or what exactly we are going to provide in terms of support, it is just a little worrisome to say the least that the same people who seek to deny women access to both contraception and safe abortion services aren’t willing to feed the children in their own legislative back yard.


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