from school meals to contraception
Two bizarre political footballs have recently taken up residence in Anchorage’s community dialog one of national origin, the other of state. The federal issue that has sucked the oxygen from every hidden corner of our national debate surrounds contraception and how it should be allocated what the federal government’s role is, and how much religious liberty has influence over it. The state issue, on the other hand, is a School Meals program, desperate for a breath of fresh air and a bread crumb as it sits motionless in the Alaska House Finance Committee.
Both issues revolve around the worst problems in society: the ones that cost taxpayer money. The initial conversation a hugely important one focused on a provision in President Obama’s Affordable Care Act mandating that all insurance policies include oral contraception. The Catholic Church and other religious organizations objected to this, so a compromise was reached that would force private insurance companies to pick up the tab. Limbaugh and a peppering of GOP presidential hopefuls steered the narrative away from the more complicated question of the balance of powers between organized religion and democratic government, and made it about sex. Or, more pronounced, the money you and I spend on other people having (or not having) sex.
In Juneau, Kokayi Nosakhere just wrapped up a twenty eight day hunger strike. He’s making the argument, to people who aren’t listening, that Alaska Senate Bill 3 is worth passing. Up until now, the bill has been uncontroversial, which is why it’s been allowed to sit in committee for over a year. Things that don’t relate to oil taxes are allowed to sit and rot while politicians grandstand and solicit campaign contributions from special interests on more profitable topics. So Kokayi put his money where his mouth used to enjoy food and set up camp in protest. Finally, the issue has landed itself in prime time, which left most everyone confused and unprepared.
No one right or left advocates for hungry children in Alaska. But Alaska Senate Bill 3 forces people to make a decision about a specific federal program. And many have chosen to make a snap judgment, rather than an informed and thoughtful one.
Parents should be in charge of feeding their children, right? If you can’t feed your kids, they should probably be someplace else. The taxpayer should not be on the hook for hungry children due to their parents’ irresponsibility. Show me a hungry child and I’ll show you their parents with a flat screen television and an iPhone. So the argument goes.
But those arguments are only the first sentence in an encyclopedia of discussion that needs to take place, and yet we’re fracturing the conversation precisely there. When we decide to cut ourselves off from the rest of our thoughts so that we can haphazardly dismiss a prescription that might cause a net societal gain, we’re doing ourselves a disservice.
What causes a hungry child? Deadbeat parents is one conclusion. The country has a jobs deficit, though, so it’s hard to argue that there are instances of some honest and responsible parents who simply cannot find work. But let’s assume that hungry children are a product of an irresponsible home in most every instance. What part of that cycle are you breaking by punishing the child for the sins of the parent? What lesson will be gained by the child when their needs are not met in order to teach the parents a lesson? And what cost will the taxpayer pay for ripping the child out of his or her home that might be mitigated before removal or incurring those costs later on in the child’s development?
Foster care costs weigh significantly more than school meals. Dropouts are more burdensome on society, by way of unemployment, crime, poverty draw a symptom out of a hat. Children who share in the benefits of school meals are statistically proven to have improved school achievements, standardized test scores, memory and listening skills, vocabulary, brain function, and exhibit more obedient behavior. There are fewer disciplinary referrals needed, fewer emotional problems, lower obesity rates, higher attendance.
Virtuous citizens. Net gains. Some costs now take the place of larger costs later.
Local influence peddlers have done well assigning this as a left right political dynamic for people to dismiss accordingly, but this is only partisan as it relates to those who try to frame it as such. The bill was sponsored by Democratic State Senator Bill Wielechowski, backed up with a sponsor statement from Republican State Representative Cathy Muoz, and supported by the Food Bank of Alaska, the Alaska Food Coalition, the Alaska School Nutrition Association, myriad school districts, and on and on. The Anchorage Assembly even passed a supporting resolution unanimously. When does that happen? Seriously? From Harriet Drummond to Adam Trombley, Paul Honeman to Mayor Dan Sullivan. Unquestioning agreement. We should be dancing in the streets.
Instead, we are confoundedly bound by two bit politics that disallow us from seeing a good bill for what it is.
To those hard set in their thoughts that taxpayers shouldn’t have to pick up the tab for our state’s 51,000 food insecure children, I would ask you for an alternative. If we remove them from their "deadbeat" homes, where do we put them that doesn’t add financial burden to us all? Is a small portion of state funds just over $2 million that are part of a federal program, but controlled locally through existing programs more offensive in the way it deals with impoverished children for pennies on the dollar than paying, on the back end, the costs of prisons, unemployment, health care, and pin the tail on the unaddressed concern?
Feed the damn kids.
Nationally, we need to challenge ourselves on the question of birth control. We’ve reduced the scope of the debate to a question of whether or not taxpayers should fund sex.
Just as we assigned blame regarding child hunger as a problem of the parent, and not society, we forget that contraception benefits all of us, and not just the sexual deviant described in stupid by numbers talk radio. The hungry child grows up without adequate measures to attain the same education and opportunities as the fed child. Women without birth control are similarly subject to different challenges. So, on come the same questions black, white, and devoid of nuance. Why should I pay for someone to have sex? If they can’t afford contraception, they shouldn’t have a child. Government shouldn’t be in the business of contraception.
Totally legitimate points if you leave them as initial statements and avoid follow up questions.
Firstly, under the new compromise as it relates to the Affordable Care Act, the taxpayer doesn’t pay for contraception. The insurance provider picks up that tab. Which, theoretically, could result in nominal premium increases. But, especially in Alaska, where Governor Parnell, in 2010, vetoed over $300 million in funding for Denali KidCare; a veto which specifically gutted funding for impoverished participants a move drastic enough to prompt fellow Republican Bill Walker to remind Parnell that our children "are our most valuable asset" do we really want to live in a society where contraception isn’t universally available?
I recall a comment on facebook, which asked why we should be making sure contraception is universally available when "if you can’t afford birth control, you can’t afford a kid." Is taking away the contraceptive the rational prescription?
How much more money do we spend ignoring the problems that contraceptives alleviate than we would, at first glance, save by simply making accessibility universal? Beyond the actual birth control measures, oral contraceptives also are prescribed for the treatment of a plethora of unpleasant gynecological conditions, like dysfunctional uterine bleeding, endometriosis, ovarian cancer, and a whole catalog of other issues that have nothing to do with Limbaugh’s accusations of occupational sex which he feels should be posted online for his viewing pleasure.
We don’t want to talk about the necessity of contraception beyond our own proclivity to not bother taking the time to understand it, let alone fund it. Even though we pay a ludicrous amount on the back end because we don’t fund universal contraception on the front end. We don’t feed children because we want to blame their parents for being bad parents, without thinking of the long term effects that immediate judgment might have on the kids we’re not bothering to feed so that they don’t end up criminals or indigents that become a drain on the whole of society. We’re not bothering to think beyond our initial approximation, and it is damning us all.
If we want to survive as a united people we need to get over this intellectual in curiosity that serves brilliantly as a talk radio or political fund raiser, or an antiquated left right tension. We need to ensure that women are in control of their reproductive rights and that children are afforded equal access to the opportunity of education. Civilized society is more than just snap judgments. It’s about more than clicking "like" on someone else’s opinion and forgetting everything else. There is no such thing as a taxpayer who approves one hundred percent with where his or her tax dollars go. I personally disapprove of paying for wars that I’ve lost friends to. I object to the lunacy of our two party system that believes raising billions for a presidential election is a useful way to spend the little money left in our pockets.
But let’s separate partisan rhetoric from tools which strengthen society while costing us less. Part of the social contract that built this nation includes the reality that we sacrifice some independent judgment for the general welfare. We pay for roads that we probably won’t use every day. We pay for snow removal in Mountain View, even if we live on the south side. We pay for our kid’s education equally with the kid to the right or left of him. And we do so because it’s a long term investment.
It’s time to look into public policies as the long term investments that they are, instead of the short term political footballs that make a healthy debate impossible and intolerably stupid.
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