Sarah Palin raised the ire of critics, and even a few of her allies, after showing up at a Pennsylvania school in November, cookies in hand, to make a point about government regulation in Michelle Obama’s “Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010.” Even conservative Mike Huckabee sided with Team Obama, suggesting that Ms. Palin missed the point of the bill. Huckabee is correct. Ms. Palin did miss the point. So did he.
States are broke. Federal support for their faltering budgets continues with no end in sight. President Obama comes from Illinois, so he knows what happens when state budgets go bad. Years of dire predictions about Illinois’ unaffordable public pension system accomplished nothing. It took a recession-fueled budget meltdown and the most underfunded pension system in the nation for state lawmakers to finally pass legislation to address the problem.
Big banks found out what happens when a stranger comes to your door offering help. Their bailouts came with conditions. Given this administration’s history of exploiting need as an excuse to extend government, why are we surprised that a $4.5 billion bump in federal assistance to schools has strings attached? Even the bill’s name, which suggests an anti-hunger initiative, is suspicious, as Mr. Obama’s focus seems to be childhood obesity:
Right now, across the country, too many kids don’t have access to school meals. And often, the food that’s being offered isn’t as healthy or as nutritious as it should be. That’s part of the reason why one in three children in America today are either overweight or obese. 
And this bill is also about doing what’s right for our country, because we feel the strains that treating obesity-related health conditions puts on our economy. 
There is a lot wrong with this bill besides regulation. The $4.5 billion price tag is deceptive, because this is a spending increase for current programs, not the stand-alone cost. Discretionary add-ons include “Funds For Infrastructure, Management Information Systems, and Special Nutrition Education.”, which will pay for “. . . special State projects of regional or national significance to improve the services of the program;”. $35,000,000 goes to management information systems. $90,000,000 will be spent on special nutrition education and performance bonus payments.  Still more money goes to grants funded in other sections of the bill.
While the Hunger-Free Kids Act was sold to taxpayers as “paid for,” this does not mean that it has no cost. The funds are taken from the food stamp program. The president will figure out how to replenish those billions by 2013, assuming the problem is still his to solve:
It’s also important to note that while this bill is fully paid for, it won’t add a dime to the deficit, some of the funding comes from rolling back a temporary increase in food stamp benefits –- or SNAP as it’s now called -– starting in the fall of 2013. I know a number of members of Congress have expressed concerns about this offset being included in the bill, and I’m committed to working with them to restore these funds in the future. 
There is a better option. We could recoup the cost from $1.5 billion in incorrect payments made by the “high-error” School Lunch Program, which has a 16.3% improper payment rate, and from SNAP, which could recover $2.2 billion in payments.  Congress could even take this a step further, and refuse to fund any program until that program’s waste of taxpayer dollars is halted.
Back to Sarah Palin. Her point about government overstepping its bounds is well taken, but control is not the problem. It is the result of the problem. States are beholden to big government because the recession worsened their budget woes, turning them into beggars who will gratefully accept a six cent increase per school meal, money for grants and other programs, and a healthy dose of regulation to choke down with their healthy lunches. Had they accepted the responsibility to manage their finances before the recession hit, Uncle Sam might never have been involved. Instead, big government has become the friend of the states. As the saying goes, “With friends like these . . . “
For more on the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act see: Paying for Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Wastes Our Tax Dollars.
1..The White House. Office of the Press Secretary. Remarks by the President and First Lady at the Signing of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act. December 13, 2010. http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2010/12/13/remarks-president-and-first-lady-signing-healthy-hunger-free-kids-act, retrieved January 3, 2011.
3..Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010. p. 49.
4..Remarks by the President and First Lady, op. cit.
5..PaymentAccuracy.gov. High-Error Programs. http://paymentaccuracy.gov.