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Compromise House Bill Increases Funds for Nutrition by $100 Million

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Washington--In a bid for bipartisan support, a Democrat-controlled House panel last week approved a child-nutrition bill that would eliminate proposals to lower school-lunch prices and broaden eligibility requirements.

The amended bill, HR 7, calls for a $100-million increase in the $5.3-billion child-nutrition programs for fiscal 1986, $274 million less than proposed in the original bill. The Reagan Administration has proposed cutting $700 million from the programs' fiscal 1986 budget.

The revised House measure was introduced by Representative Augustus F. Hawkins, Democrat of California, and chairman of the House elementary, secondary, and vocational education subcommittee.

Representative Hawkins believed offering the substitute bill was the "only prudent course of action," according to John F. Jennings, counsel to the subcommittee.

Many Provisions Eliminated

The legislation calls for a 6-cent increase in the reimbursement for each school breakfast served and an additional $60 million for the Women, Infants, and Children (wic) program. The original bill proposed a $200-million increase for the $1.5-billion wic program.

The bill no longer includes a proposal to 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, or about $19,000 for a family of four.

Also eliminated were provisions allowing certain nonprofit sponsors to participate in the summer feeding program, authorizing additional meals for day-care centers, and lowering the cost of reduced-price lunches and breakfasts for children of working parents. (See Education Week, April 10, 1985.)

The bill would still 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.

Ensures Bipartisan Support

Edward Cooney of the Food Research and Action Center said his group supports the compromise effort.

"It's part of the overall strategy to ensure bipartisan support," he said. "While we thought the original bill was very helpful, we did not perceive it as passable on the House floor. This was a decision that people would support, given the political realities of the day."

Administration Proposals

To achieve a $700-million cut in the feeding programs for fiscal 1986, the Reagan Administration has proposed eliminating the cost-of-living adjustment for all the programs in 1986 and abolishing the current 24-cent lunch subsidy available to all students from families who earn6more than 185 percent of the poverty line.

In a related development, five states and five members of the Congress last week filed suit against the Agriculture Department and the Office of Management and Budget, charging that they have failed to spend the full amount appropriated for wic.

The food research and action group filed suit in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia on behalf of the complainants: Arkansas, Maine, New Mexico, New York, and Texas, and Democratic Representatives Hawkins, George Miller of California, Matther F. McHugh of New York, William B. Richardson of New Mexico, and Ted Weiss of New York.

Suit's Argument

The suit, Maddox v. Block, claims that the Congress had ordered the Agriculture Department to spend $1.5 billion on wic but that at the rate the department is allocating the money to the states, it will spend $80 million less than that. The plaintiffs are asking the court to order the department to release the money.

Sonia F. Crow, associate administrator for food and nutrition services in the Agriculture Department, said the action taken by the department is "appropriate and legal."

"The lawsuit is in favor of providing money to the states in a different timing fashion," she said. "One hundred percent of the money will be provided to the states by the end of the fiscal year."

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