Even without the concept of moral hazard (defined in the next paragraph), there are cost-effective reasons to have some social programs. For example, if we cut all social safety net programs, we would have to spend a lot more on things like street cleaning dead bodies off the street (and more medical stuff because dead bodies aren’t healthy) and more to the point, on jails. Jail is expensive. Jail can be more expensive than some of these programs that get kids food, or preschooling etc. Some social welfare programs are actually cost effective because they reduce crime and thus the number of people needing incarceration. Even the most cold-hearted conservative should be in favor of them for that reason. Because we have to keep society safe and we have to spend money to do that.
One big reason that many conservatives do not like social programs is the problem of moral hazard. Moral hazard encompasses the idea that if you offer a benefit, people are going to change their behavior in order to take it. It mathematically happens if we assume that people are rational. Some people with higher values of leisure will take leisure if a program is poorly targeted, even if they would have worked without the benefit. It’s the main argument against these kinds of programs. If we could perfectly target people who are actually disabled, actually unable to find work etc., it would be easier to sell these kinds of benefits. Since we can’t figure out who really needs them and who doesn’t, we’re going to be making mistakes both ways– not helping people who need it and helping people who don’t. It just falls out of the equations. (In science terms there’s type 1 and type 2 error… or false positives and false negatives.) It’s a fact. So many folks know someone on disability who is cheating it somehow… but some of us also know people who really ought to be on disability but did not qualify for the program. That will always be true unless the program is universal (in which case nobody is denied) or does not accept anyone.
Kids don’t have moral hazard because they’re not the ones making the decisions. That’s why even Ron Paul says we should feed hungry kids (he said this either on the Daily Show or the Colbert Report, I don’t remember which one). There’s no downside to the kids– they don’t change their decisions about work because they’re not working. Sure, some parents who might have fed their kids on their own will be less likely to (moral hazard at the parent level), but it’s not a kid’s fault if a parent would rather buy cigarettes than food, and when a kid isn’t fed, the kid is more likely to have developmental delays and eventually become a cost to society rather than a productive member.
So… feed the kids. They’re our future, and it isn’t their fault if their parents suck.