In March 2014 at CPAC, Paul Ryan said of Obamacare that it offered Americans "less opportunity" and empty souls.
The comments about an "empty soul" were not in reference to free lunches at schools; Ryan appeared to use the anecdote to illustrate what he described as impersonal government assistance.
In early December 2016, a number of social media users shared a purported quote from Speaker Paul Ryan, published by Ring of Fire Radio on 6 December 2016:
Continuing his holy war against government assistance, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan declared during a conservative PAC speech that giving children free meals deprives them of something vital – their souls.
Ryan was speaking before the Conservative Political Action Conference when he made his uneducated opinion on social welfare programs, specifically referring to free school lunches.
Ryan claimed that free school lunches deny children their dignity, giving them “a full stomach – and an empty soul.”
The Speaker shared a personal story he had heard second-hand of a small child who said he was embarrassed to accept the free school lunch because he wanted to be like the other children.
All versions of the quote originated with a Time magazine article published on 6 March 2014. The piece (originally titled "Paul Ryan Says Free School Lunches Give Kids ‘An Empty Soul'") reported:
The Wisconsin Republican who recently took aim at the War on Poverty said during his CPAC speech that the Obama administration's free school lunch program is offering Americans "a full stomach — and an empty soul"
Paul Ryan says that free lunches provided to children by government programs give kids “a full stomach — and an empty soul.”
In a speech he made at Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), the country’s largest gathering of conservative leaders and activists, Thursday, he shared this story he heard from Eloise Anderson, who serves in the cabinet for Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker:
“She once met a young boy from a poor family. And every day at school, he would get a free lunch from a government program. But he told Eloise he didn’t want a free lunch. He wanted his own lunch — one in a brown-paper bag just like the other kids’. He wanted one, he said, because he knew a kid with a brown-paper bag had someone who cared for him.
It was not immediately clear why so many outlets leapt on a March 2014 Paul Ryan quote nearly three years after the article appeared on Time's web site. But as of 9 December 2016, the magazine had changed both the headline and the content of the article. An updated version (now titled "Paul Ryan Criticizes Liberal Government Programs at CPAC") offers the following clarification:
Update: The story has been updated to add a fuller quote and context to Ryan’s remarks at the 2014 Conservative Political Action Conference. A spokeswoman for Anderson later told the Washington Post that she had misspoken while testifying before Congress, and that the quote about a brown-paper bag came from a TV interview she saw.
The amended article contained the following additional context:
In a speech he made at Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), the country’s largest gathering of conservative leaders and activists, Thursday, he shared a story he heard from Eloise Anderson, who serves in the Cabinet for Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, as a way of criticizing the Affordable Care Act.
Take Obamacare—not literally, but figuratively, here OK? We now know that this law will discourage millions of people from working. The Left thinks this is a good thing. They say, hey, this is a new freedom—the freedom not to work. I don’t think the problem is too many people are working. I think the problem is not enough people can find work. And if people leave the workforce, our economy will shrink. There will be less opportunity, not more. The Left is making a big mistake here. What they’re offering people is a full stomach and an empty soul. The American people want more than that.
You know, this reminds me of a story I heard from Eloise Anderson. She serves in the Cabinet of my buddy, Gov. Scott Walker. She once met a young boy from a very poor family. And every day at school, he would get a free lunch from a government program. He told Eloise he didn’t want a free lunch. He wanted his own lunch—one in a brown-paper bag just like the other kids. He wanted one, he said, because he knew a kid with a brown-paper bag had someone who cared for him.
In the original, the title indicated that Ryan said free lunches at school caused spiritual damage to children (in other words, an empty soul). The December 2016 update demonstrated that Ryan was discussing the Affordable Care Act when making the "empty soul" comment, and added an anecdote about a child apparently sad that sad he did not have a lunch packed by "someone who cared for him."