Maryland lawmakers in Montgomery County are working to add more free meals for needy students. The county council plans to expand the program’s budget by $150,000 to feed an additional 1,100 students on the weekends.
Montgomery County councilmember Craig Rice, chair of the council’s education committee and an advocate for the free meals program, appeared on a D.C.-based radio station on Tuesday to promote the expansion of the program, but the radio host questioned whether the program encouraged fiscal irresponsibility, parent neglect and took into consideration the influx of illegal alien children coming into the community.
“With food stamps and all of the other programs that the state of Maryland does through the generosity of taxpayers and also, by the way, charitable organizations, I don’t understand how a parent is allowed to let their child go hungry. Are we investigating these parents before just giving them free food? Are we finding out what it is that [they] are doing with their money and their benefits?” WMAL host Larry O’Connor asked the councilmember.
“Well, part of the challenge is that we don’t want to victimize the children. If the children are truly going hungry, we need to solve that …,” Rice responded.
O’Connor interrupted, “Hold on. Nothing I said there is ‘victimizing’ the children. I am pointing suspicion at the parents and are we questioning these parents and trying to find out what’s going on in these homes? To me, this sounds like neglect and that bothers me as a parent. I am bothered by that, and you should be too. I don’t want children neglected in Montgomery County.”
The councilmember insisted that the food assistance programs are not enough for the growing population of poor children in the affluent community.
“Keep in mind that there are people who are living here in Montgomery County — that has one of the highest median incomes but has one of the highest housing prices — that are living off of minimum wage. And that is certainly not enough,” Rice told WMAL. “We know this is a very expensive place to live. We’ve also got to do what we can to make sure we’re supporting our kids.”
O’Connor pressed the councilmember on whether they are accounting for the added costs of poor undocumented students in the county.
“Do you have any information here as to how many of these children that are being fed … are here illegally and have come here recently in the influx of undocumented children across the border?” the WMAL host asked him.
“We don’t know and actually don’t identify which ones are a part of this program. From our perspective, again just as you feel, no child should go hungry,” said the councilmember.
Editor’s note: Hunter is the executive producer for WMAL Radio.