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Reagan Administration Opposes Nutrition Bill

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Washington--A child-nutrition bill that would lower school-lunch prices and broaden eligibility requirements for reduced-price meals "cannot be justified," an Agriculture Department official told a House panel last week.

Sonia F. Crow, associate administrator of the food and nutrition service in the department, told the House Subcommittee on Elementary, Secondary, and Vocational Education that the bill, H R 7, "would use taxpayers' money to provide new entitlement funding for those well above the poverty line."

"At a time of unparalleled need to control federal spending," she said, "we cannot justify this bill, which would add $474 million to the deficit in 1986 alone."

The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that the legislation would increase the programs' fiscal 1985 budget of $5.3 billion by about $374 million. The programsserve about 23 million children.

Bill's Provisions

The legislation, which passed in the House last year and died in the Senate, was reintroduced in the new session by Augustus F. Hawkins, Democrat of California and chairman of the subcommittee.

The bill would raise the eligibility level for reduced-price meals so that families earning 195 percent of the poverty level could participate; the current eligibility ceiling is 185 percent of the poverty level. It would also provide a 6-cent increase in school-breakfast meal reimbursements to schools to improve the quality of the meals; provide funding for additional meals for day-care centers; and lower the cost of reduced-price lunches and breakfasts for children of working parents.

The bill would also allow certain nonprofit sponsors to participate in the summer feeding program, and allow a $200-million increase in the $1.5-billion Women, Infants, and Children (wic) program--to $1.7 billion in 1986.

It would also reauthorize through 1988 five child-nutrition and school-lunch programs--the Special Supplemental Food Program for the wic program, the Summer Food Program, the commodity-distribution program, the Nutrition Education and Training Program, and the State Administration Program.

Administration Cuts

Ms. Crow said that while "it is true that we have restrained the budgets of the child-nutrition programs," the changes made "served to better target scarce federal resources on those in greatest need, improve program administration, and reduce duplication in subsidies."

The Reagan Administration has proposed cuts of about $700 million for fiscal 1986 in the programs. It proposes to eliminate the cost-of-living adjustment for all child-nutrition programs in 1986, as well as to abolish the current 24-cent federal subsidy available to all students from families who earn more than 185 percent of the poverty line, or $19,000 a year for a family of four.

The Administration is also asking for a "means test" for participants in federally supported family day-care programs, to eliminate middle-income children from the program.

'Matter of Survival'

Representative Hawkins said that "experience has shown that when the prices of lunches are increased, people drop off the program."

Ms. Crow replied that "over time, we see people coming back to the program because it's such a good bargain."

"People are coming back to the program because there are many more people in poverty," Representative Hawkins responded. "Not because it's such a great bargain but because it's a matter of survival."

"H R 7 is an important but modest approach to addressing many of the concerns raised" about hunger in America, said Michael Lemov, executive director of the Food Research and Action Center, a child-nutrition advocacy group. "It gives us an opportunity to safeguard the health of the nation's children."

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