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Bush Administration May Not Support Reagan Plan To Drop Lunch Subsidies

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Washington--The Bush Administration has apparently backed away from a controversial proposal in President Reagan's last budget that would have changed a key provision of the school-lunch program.

But due to remaining ambiguities in the Bush budget plan, advocates for child-nutrition programs said at two House subcommittee hearings last week that they would continue to monitor the fate of Section 4 of the National School Lunch Act.

That provision grants schools 14 cents for each lunch served.

In Mr. Reagan's budget proposal, Section 4 payments were presented as an unneccesary subsidy to the parents of children who could afford to pay full price for school meals.

But according to a report issued by the Subcommittee on Elementary, Secondary, and Vocational Education last week, Section 4 payments are critical to keeping schools in the program.

Schools use this money, the report said, to subsidize their entire nutrition program, and many would drop out of the federal lunch program if the subsidy were eliminated.

Both during and after a hearing last Thursday, the ranking Republican member on both the subcommittee and the Education and Labor Committee, Representative William Goodling of Pennsylvania, said he was confident that the Bush Administration would not alter Section 4 payments.

Mr. Goodling said that in recent conversations with Richard Darman, the director of the Office of Management and Budget, and Secretary of Agriculture Clayton Yeutter, whose department administers the nutrition programs, he had stressed the importance of not cutting Section 4.

"I told them, 'Don't ever do that, because I've worked hard for nine years to get the President elected, and I don't want to be fighting him in the very first round,"' Mr. Goodling said.

Spokesmen for both the omb and the Agriculture Department confirmed that Section 4 payments were not slated to be altered in Mr. Bush's budget.

Kelly Shipp, a spokesman for Mr. Yeutter, said that while "in the budget process, all items are on the table," the Secretary remained "strongly committed" to the child-nutrition programs.

In addition to pressing for maintaining Section 4, child-nutrition8advocates appearing before the subcommittee last week called on the Congress and the new Administration to allocate more money for a nutrition-education and training program and the Women, Infants, and Children program.

Those testifying also presented a petition signed by 93 advocacy and religious groups and unions calling for greater wic funding.

They also asked that the federal government set dietary guidelines for children that could be used to plan school meals, and that it allow more school districts to receive letters of credit for specific food items--instead of commodities--from the usda

The generally sympathetic tone with which subcommittee members questioned the panelists was jarred only once during the hearings. In response to the American Food Service Association's proposal to relax a current provision requiring schools to offer whole milk, Representative Steven Gunderson, Republican of Wisconsin, asked, "I have just one question. Are you serious?"

"This is not a threat, but if you attack that element, you've lost our support," he added with a grin.

While acknowledging that whole milk is more profitable for his state's dairy farmers than lower-fat offerings, Mr. Gunderson maintained after the first hearing last Tuesday that many parents would prefer their children to drink whole milk for both taste and nutritional reasons.--ef

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