On any given day, 90,000 Nebraska children do not receive enough food to nourish their bodies and their minds. They go to bed hungry. They wake up hungry. They go to school hungry.
Many of Nebraska’s hungry children live in rural areas of the state. Our rural counties of Loup, Arthur, Blaine, Grant and McPherson are among the most impoverished counties in the United States. They were actually the five most impoverished counties in the entire United States in the 2000 census poverty ratings. They only moved down in the 2010 census poverty ratings because the recession sucked other counties dry when masses of people across the country lost their jobs. Our counties didn’t get better. Other counties got worse.
Remember Scarlett O’Hara in Gone With The Wind desperately digging for and eating a turnip out of the scorched earth because she was starving? Think about a five-year-old doing the same thing in Hyannis, Nebraska. Only the five-year-old is not a fictional character in a movie. She is real.
Our schools do a great job of providing impoverished children with healthy meals twice a day during the school year. Sometimes these meals are all the kids will get for the day. Sometimes kids sneak food home from school in their pockets to feed their siblings.
But summers can be brutal for kids who don’t have enough to eat. No school means no breakfast or lunch or cookies to sneak home for a little brother.
The US Department of Agriculture has a fine summer food program that both feeds hungry children and supports the local economy. The Summer Food Service Program is entirely funded by federal dollars that are used by local service providers to purchase food from local farmers and grocers to feed local children a healthy meal in the summertime. It’s a fine program. It is also greatly underused in Nebraska, with the main barrier being lack of expensive health-department-approved equipment like walk-in coolers or refrigerated transport.
So Senator Norm Wallman had a great idea. Senator Wallman introduced LB1090, a bill that will spread the word about the Summer Food Service Program and will award one-time grants to local service providers so they can purchase that expensive equipment so they can feed more hungry kids.
Senator Wallman is the sweetest, kindest state senator you will ever meet. He sports an old-fashioned droopy gray mustache that gives him a close Mark Twain look. When he gets up to speak, he always starts out asking himself a rhetorical question and then answering it, sort of like this:
“Corn. Is corn better on the cob or off? I don’t know. But that’s what we’re talking about today. Corn.”
Senator Wallman is an absolute sweetie, and he has a giant soft spot for kids, so he introduced this smart bill that only costs $140,000, but will actually generate about $2 million … that is two million dollars… in federal funds that will go into Nebraska’s local coffers with the expansion of the Summer Food Service Program.
What’s not to love?
Oh, let me tell you: Some senators blamed “lazy irresponsible parents” for not feeding their kids. Some senators said the government can’t do everything for everybody any more. Some senators hearkened back to the “good old days,” when churches and neighbors fed the “poor folks.”
Senator Wallman and other senators reminded the obstructive senators that this bill 1) will provide sustenance for children, 2) will infuse $2 million into hard-strapped local economies, and 3) the good old days are done gone and went.
When it came down to voting time, Senator Wallman barely got the 25 votes he needed to move the bill forward. No senators voted against the bill, because no senators wanted to look like the tightwad jerks they are by voting against hungry children. They just took the wussie road and didn’t vote at all.
Like I told you, Senator Wallman is sweet and kind, and you never hear him raise his voice. But Senator Wallman was so angry with the wussie non-voters that he asked for a rollcall vote so the non-voters will have their wussie names on the record forever.
And here they are: Senators Bloomfield, Brasch, Carlson, Christensen, Fischer, Fulton, Hansen, Harms, Lambert, Larson, Louden, McCoy, Schilz, Schumacher, Smith, and Wightman, all sat on their hands in the legislative chambers and refused to vote up or down for kids. Wussies.
I have mentioned more than once that the Lege is officially non-partisan, but that attribute is becoming about as done gone and went as the good old days. Case in point: Senator Wallman is of one particular political party, and all of the senators who did not vote for his fine bill are of the other political party. The Other Political Party stood together in collective wussie opposition to Senator Wallman’s bill, and in so doing played games with children’s lives.
But hey, they’re only kids. And kids can’t vote.
Senator Wallman’s fine bill to feed hungry children still needs to be voted upon again on select file and then once more on final reading before it passes. And then there’s the little thing about the governor signing it, or not, before it becomes law. Did I mention the governor is of the Other Political Party?
Let the games begin.