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Fate of Child-Nutrition Bill Uncertain in Senate at Week's End

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Washington--The Senate was expected to vote late last week on a proposal to extend federal child-nutrition programs, but by the early-morning hours of last Friday, confusion still remained over which of several widely differing proposals would ultimately be considered.

Lobbyists and Congressional aides were seeking a compromise measure from among expected proposals that would either raise the level of expenditures, lower them, or hold spending steady.

Three Proposals

Three possible child-nutrition amendments to S 1714, the multibillion-dollar agriculture bill, were being considered late last week, according to Senate aides. One, expected to be introduced by Senator Paula Hawkins, Republican of Florida, would probably reauthorize five child-nutrition programs at the current-services level, they said.

Another amendment, probably to be introduced by Senator Jesse A. Helms, Republican of North Carolina, would result in cuts in the current programs, according to most child-nutrition lobbyists.

The third possible amendment, which Senator Tom Harkin, Democrat of Iowa, was considering introducing, would increase child-nutrition funds by about $100 million.

House Bill

In September, the House approved a four-year reauthorization of federal school-lunch and child-nutrition programs, providing $5.76- billion in the fiscal year that began Oct. 1. That amount is $121 million above the programs' current level of funding.

The Helms amendment, which was first circulated as draft legislation last week to members of the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry Committee, was the focus of most concern by lobbyists representing affected groups.

The Helms measure, expected to be introduced only if an amendment increasing the funding for child-nutrition programs was offered on the Senate floor, would maintain "current services" for the child-nutrition programs, according to several lobbyists. But, said Ed Cooney, child-nutrition policy analyst for the Food Research and Action Center, it contains "about 20 provisions that are just dreadful to the interests of low-income children."

While the Helms proposal does not include the $400-million reduction initially sought by the Reagan Administration, said Lynn Parker, staff lawyer for the Food Research and Action Center, lobbyists believe it would make administrative reforms that would effectively eliminate many low-income children from the program.

Lobbyists Concern

Lobbyists cite as particularly worrisome a provision affecting some 21 states that do not directly administer all their child-nutrition programs in nonpublic institutions. The provision would limit the authority of the Agriculture Department's food and nutrition service to administer those programs.

"The bottom line is that ... the proposal is likely to lead to the termination of some child-nutrition programs in a number of states," according to an analysis of the measure by the Center for Budget and Policy Analysis, an independent research group.

The Helms amendment also includes provisions that would freeze funds for the Women, Infants, and Children (wic) program for four years, alter funding-allocation procedures for the program in a way that could ultimately result in fewer funds, and eliminate requirements for bilingual program materials in areas where there are large non-English-speaking populations, Ms. Parker said.

Laura Rice, minority staff director of the agriculture committee, said that in order to avoid criticism many Senators who voted several weeks ago for a bill designed to eliminate the federal deficit by 1990 may not vote for the spending increases included in the House version of the bill.

"While there is general support, because of the deficit, there are those on the agriculture committee who may prefer to do nothing," Ms. Rice said. Because of this, she added, it is possible that the Senate may extend funding for the the programs for one year only rather than vote on a multi-year funding extension.

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