Paul Ryan: Full Stomach, Empty Soul

5665752854_64a325c20b_z (1)Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc) didn’t major in psychology, so maybe that’s why he turned Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs on its head when he pontificated at the Conservative Political Action Conference on March 6 about the U.S. providing food for hungry children:

The left is making a big mistake here. What they’re offering people is a full stomach and an empty soul…She [Eloise Anderson, secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Children and Families] once met a young boy from a very poor family, and every day at school, he would get a free lunch from a government program. He told Eloise he didn’t want a free lunch. He wanted his own lunch, one in a brown-paper bag just like the other kids. He wanted one, he said, because he knew a kid with a brown-paper bag had someone who cared for him.

Ryan was giving his opinion on the school hot lunch program and food stamps (the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, SNAP), proving once again that conservative Republicans are masters at trivializing poor people’s needs. Even if those poor people are children, who can’t possibly work their way out of poverty.

In fact, 72 percent of households that benefit from the SNAP program include children, and 2.2 million children are lifted out of poverty by governmental assistance programs such as SNAP. The National School Lunch Program benefits 3.1 million children [PDF] who might otherwise have gone hungry with a half day of school still ahead of them. And many of the children who receive lunch at school rely on this as the only meal they know will be served everyday. Soul-crushing? More like life-saving.

Meanwhile, members of the U.S. Congress such as Ryan are being dealt their own soul-crushing blows, since they, too, benefit from a nutritional assistance program.

The nonprofit Sunlight Foundation, which gathers data to make government more transparent, discovered last June that the House spent about $2 million in taxpayer dollars on coffee and catered food for guests. At $95,000, Republican Kevin McCarthy of California spent the most (how demoralizing for him!), including $4,000 on bottled water alone.

Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.), in a September 2013 speech before the House in favor of food stamps, pointed how how much Congressmembers spent on food while abroad:

One member was given $127.41 a day for food on his trip to Argentina. He probably had a fair amount of steak. Another member was given $3,588 for food and lodging during a six-day trip to Russia. He probably drank a fair amount of vodka and probably even had some caviar. That particular member has 21,000 food-stamp recipients in his district. One of those people who is on food stamps could live a year on what this Congressman spent on food and lodging for six days. Another 20 members made a trip to Dublin, Ireland. They got $166 a day for food. These members didn’t pay a dime. They received almost $200 for a single meal only for themselves. Yet, for them the idea of helping fellow Americans spend less than $5 a day makes their skin crawl.

Ryan’s skin not only crawls at the idea of providing children one reliable meal a day, but believes that it will take the dignity away from these children. Because all children with empty stomachs care about is their dignity, right?

Not to mention that the child Ryan referred to at CPAC never actually met Eloise Anderson. The boy was actually an 11-year-old panhandling in New York City who Laura Schoff met and wrote about in her memoir An Invisible ThreadSchoff offered to give him lunch money, but the boy said he’d prefer her to make him a lunch in a brown paper bag. As Schoff told the Huffington Post,

I want people to think about what they can do to make the world a kinder world. I don’t care about Republicans and Democrats. But we are talking about children that need to be fed. Cutting school lunch programs doesn’t accomplish that.


Photo courtesy of Flickr user DC Central Kitchen licensed under Creative Commons 2.o


Lindsey O'Brien is currently studying journalism at Ohio University and interning at Ms. Follow her on Twitter.