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James Ferragut, Published February 16 2013

Ferragut: Cutting milk for children arrogant, stupid, selfish

It’s a typical day. Mom wakes up at 6:10. She’s tired, and her feet and shoulders are sore from yesterday’s work. She washes her face, dashes on makeup and gets into her blue-collar work uniform. It’s not too physically demanding, and it pays her just enough above minimum wage for her to keep going back every day. But money is always too tight for a family of three.

She throws a skinny breakfast together for her 8-year-old daughter, Rachel, and her 10-year-old son, Billy, and sets the kitchen table. She wakes the kids and makes sure they are washed, dressed and at the table before she heads out the door at 6:50 to catch the bus that takes her to work.

The kids dilly and dawdle. Without Mom’s supervision, they rarely eat their dull breakfast and all too often leave the apartment with jackets that are either too light or too heavy for the day’s weather. But they learned long ago to never miss the school bus.

Around 9:30 every morning, they start to feel hungry but know it will be two more hours until lunch. At 10, there’s the 15-minute milk break, and even though they go to the cafeteria, they won’t be having milk. Mom can’t afford it. They’ve gotten used to it.

It’s weird when their friends are having milk, and it’s annoying to see them getting all re-energized. But Rachel and Billy have learned to become quite the spin doctors, adept at volleying the question, “Why don’t you ever have milk?” with “Oh, I had a big breakfast … just not that hungry” or “I told you I’m lactose intolerant.” But every kid knows the truth, expressed in furtive whispers: “Rachel’s mom is too poor to buy milk.”

This scene plays out 6,000 times across North Dakota every day. The “milk shortage” for the disadvantaged isn’t new to many of us. Our church and dozens of others have taken a special offering to contribute to the Fargo School System’s “milk break” program. Every fall we’re reminded and surprised that there continues to be such a great need.

North Dakota legislators, if you’re not ashamed by your decision to deny 6,000 children a daily half-pint of milk, you should at the very least be embarrassed. What is it that could drive such a decision? Ignorance? Yep. Selfishness? Yep. Prejudice? Yep. No empathy? Yep. Arrogance? Yep. Stupidity? Yep. Greed? Yep. Not enough money in state coffers? Gotcha.

We North Dakotans like to consider ourselves the “poster boys” for, you know, the real deal, the humanitarians. We’re the ones who honor family tradition and Christian values. We say we unconditionally embrace neighbors and strangers alike. So how in the world can our representatives turn an ice-cold shoulder on children of the underclass and disenfranchised? There’s no logic, no argument, no rationale, no political condition to justify such an idiotically selfish decision.

Just know that every legislator who voted “no” on this bill looked at Rachel and Billy in the eye and said, “Sorry, kids. There’s no milk for you.” But we’ll see you in church on Sunday.

Ferragut is a marketing consultant and regular contributor to The Forum’s commentary pages.