Mt. Vernon Register-News

Opinion

December 21, 2013

Poor kids should sweep floors, says GOP scrooge

Apparently Rep. Scott Kingston has taken it upon himself to pick up where Mitt Romney left off in attempting to establish the GOP brand as officially synonymous with disdain for poor people. In a recent speech Kingston reportedly said of kids benefiting from free-lunch programs, “Why don’t you have the kids pay a dime, pay a nickel to instill in them that there is, in fact, no such thing as a free lunch? Or maybe sweep the floor of the cafeteria.”

Where to start with what’s wrong with this comment?

First off, if poor children had a spare dime or nickel lying around, they wouldn’t be partaking in free-lunch programs. I can’t believe that it is possible that in 2013 we still have to explain the basic concept of poverty to adults — particularly adults responsible for drafting policy that affects those living in poverty.

Second, unlike a lot of progressives, and particularly minorities who identify as progressive, I have never considered “personal responsibility” dirty words. Unlike Rep. Charles Rangel I have no problem with the hotly debated legal requirement that adults living in New York public housing who are not working full time, students or disabled be required to engage in voluntary community service. Adults should be held accountable (or personally responsible) for choices they make, good or bad. That could be someone like me signing up for student-loan debt to finance my education, other students signing up for work-study programs to finance theirs or adults giving back to their community and taxpayers who are helping to finance the living situation they wouldn’t be able to afford otherwise.

But the words “personal responsibility” should almost always be limited to adults, and to those teens nearing adulthood who have the capacity to make informed decisions, good and bad, and to be held accountable for them accordingly.

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