12/20/2013 03:30 pm ET Updated Dec 20, 2013

Rep. Jack Kingston Insists He Wasn't Singling Out Poor Kids: Manual Labor 'Good For All Children'

WASHINGTON -- Facing criticism for his suggestion that poor children should be made to do manual labor in exchange for school lunches, Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.) attempted to clarify his position Friday, saying he never meant to single out low-income students.

On Saturday, Kingston told a group of Republicans that he was worried that children who were getting free meals under the federal student lunch program weren't learning the value of work.

"Why don't you have the kids pay a dime, pay a nickel, to instill in them that there is, in fact, no such thing as a free lunch? Or maybe sweep the floor of the cafeteria -- and yes, I understand that that would be an administrative problem, and I understand that it would probably lose you money. But think what we would gain as a society in getting people -- getting the myth out of their head that there is such a thing as a free lunch," he said.

In a CNN interview Thursday morning, Kingston argued that his comments had been misunderstood.

"I did not specify clearly that this was not an indictment on anybody in a particular socio-economic group. This would be good for all children ... There are schools in which kids do clean the table after they eat. There's one in Alexandria, Va. In Chatham County, you have to have 20 hours of community service in order to graduate," he said.

He later emphasized that he never meant to single out low-income children, adding, "I never did say 'poor kids.'"

While Kingston did not specifically say "poor kids," he was referring to the federal school lunch program, which assists low-income families. Under that program, children from families with incomes at or below 130 percent of the poverty line are eligible for free meals. Students from families with incomes between 130 percent and 185 percent of the poverty level can receive lunches at reduced prices.

Kingston insisted to CNN host Chris Cuomo that despite his remarks on Saturday, he does not believe low-income children should have to sweep floors in order to eat.

"No. Listen, those kids don't want to be there. Their parents probably don't want them to be there. My experience is with most people in poverty is they want a job ... So absolutely this is not targeted to any one group," he said. "It would be very helpful for kids in any socio-economic groups to do chores and learn the work ethic. But those kids aren't there through any fault of their own, and I never suggested that they were. But again, in politics today, it's very hard to have that discussion."

Kingston is running against seven other Republicans in the 2014 primary to replace retiring Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.). The winner is expected to face Michelle Nunn, the leading contender on the Democratic side, in the general election.


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