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Ga. Congressman suggests free lunch kids should sweep floors

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Rep. Jack Kingston Rep. Jack Kingston
SAVANNAH, -

Representative Jack Kingston, a Republican representing Georgia's 1st District, spent some time on Saturday talking to a small group of Republicans.

He later told WSAV in Savannah, Ga., that he was "brainstorming about solutions to problems," which at one point turned to a discussion about the federal subsidized lunch program. A videotape now on YouTube shows Kingston talking about the fact that there are error rates of up to 20 percent in the breakfast and lunch program.

Then Kingston says this on the tape ""Why don't you have the kids pay a dime or a nickel to instill in them there's no such thing as a free lunch? Or maybe have them sweep the floors of the cafeteria?"

Video of Congressman Kingston's comments

The remarks, interpreted by some critics as indicating that poor children need to work for their food and be humiliated at school in the process, found Kingston explaining himself this week. But he says he was not talking about new policy or legislation, but rather how to restore the work ethic in America.

"To me, it's sad that in today's hysterical environment you can't even have a discussion without everybody jumping up and down. But I did not have any intention of making small children earn their meals for poverty they did not put on themselves," Kingston told WSAV by phone from Atlanta.

"As you know, I've represented the area for a long time, I'm not a harsh guy at all, I was just brainstorming out loud about what we do about the work ethic," he told me.

Kingston seemed surprised and somewhat stunned that his remarks had caused issues, saying we live in a "gotcha" culture which makes it hard for politicians to ever speak off the cuff about anything. That and cellphone video he says makes it hard to just try to throw out options during a discussion.

"Unfortunately, I understand now that I'm a Senate candidate and people perceive both on the Republican and Democratic side that I'm the competition so the tendency to jump on anything I say is going to happen," Kingston said. 'I regret that but I don't regret bringing up the value of work to the country."

While his remarks centered on children who qualify for free or subsidized meals, he told us he was not trying to imply that those childrens' parents don't work. "No indictment on anybody, not bringing their parents into this discussion at all," he said. "it's just a matter of making sure the work ethic is passed on. Are there things that kids could be doing at school to learn that lesson? Maybe, maybe not," he said.

In terms of his own constituents, in the Chatham County school district, 65 percent of the 37,000 students (or about 24,000 youngsters) qualify for free or reduced lunch. In discussing passing on the work ethic, Kingston  again said he was not implying that most parents of those low income children are not working or that being from a low income family is something that should single out a child.

"I would never do that, I just think there's dignity to work," he said. "And I think that children who have no control over their own economic situation should not be singled out but I do think for all kids everywhere there a great lesson to be learned about work."

Critics say if the above is what Kingston meant, he probably should have just said that. They also said Kingston seems to be doing less explaining and more backpedaling.

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