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Unger’s heart is firmly in the right place

STATE Sen. John Unger has a good heart.

The Berkeley County lawmaker's interest in service dates back to 1990, when he worked as a volunteer with Mother Teresa in Calcutta.

He has traveled to overseas hot spots, including Iraq, to work with nongovernmental agencies' disaster relief efforts.

I personally witnessed Unger on the front lines during flood recovery efforts in Southern West Virginia a few years ago. He cares about his fellow man.

So when Unger proposes transforming the school lunch program in West Virginia to include free breakfast and lunch for all children, not just those from low-income families, I don't question his motive.

Unger, who himself got a reduced-price lunch growing up, believes that if the government provides a free education, free books and free transportation to children, then food should be free as well.

The Feed to Achieve program would establish public-private partnerships in which private donations would be used to draw down federal money to absorb the additional cost of feeding every school child for free.

But at the risk of being the Grinch that stole breakfast, the idea raises questions:

The concept of "free" breakfast and lunch is a misnomer; someone pays for it somewhere along the line.

Why should the child of a family that can afford to pay for school lunch have the meal subsidized?

Giving away school breakfast and lunch to all fosters and expands the entitlement mentality.  If the government is going to feed all children for free, why not clothe them? Why not take them to the dentist and make sure they wash behind their ears?

The private donations used to draw down the federal money take away from other needs. Is $1,000 from a private donor better used paying to feed middle-class children or to help the truly needy?

We're already feeding low-income children at little or no cost. Families making up to 130 percent of the poverty level qualify for free lunches for their children, and families with incomes of up to 185 percent of the poverty level qualify for reduced-price lunches.

What happens when/if the government pulls back on funding for expanded child nutrition programs or private donations slow down? Will West Virginia cut its entitlement?

That's unlikely.  Instead, the money will have to be found someplace else.

Unger's idea, while heartfelt, is a solution in search of a problem.

Public education in West Virginia has myriad issues, but ensuring that children of middle-  and upper-income families have lunch money is not one of them.

Kercheval is host of TalkLine, broadcast by the MetroNews Statewide Radio Network from 10 a.m. to noon Monday through Friday. The show can be heard locally on WCHS 580 AM.


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