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Officials Question Decision To End 'Bonus' Flour Policy

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WASHINGTON--The Agriculture Department's decision to end the distribution of flour as a "bonus'' commodity will pose a financial hardship on school-lunch programs, nutrition officials said last week.

Appearing before the House Government Operations subcommittee on government information, justice, and agriculture, those involved with the school-lunch program questioned the department's recent decision to end a 10-year-old policy of providing bonus flour free of charge to schools starting in September. (See Education Week, May 6, 1992.)

Schools will still be able to purchase flour as an "entitlement''
commodity from the department, however.

During the current school year, about $23 million in flour is being distributed to schools, and no flour is available as an entitlement commodity. The department this year distributed a total of $626 million in both entitlement and bonus foods to schools.

No Surplus Wheat

The U.S.D.A. has said that no flour will be distributed as a bonus commodity for the forseeable future because federal policies have successfully discouraged the surplus production of wheat.

At the hearing, critics of the department's plan said it will force school districts to raise the price of school meals.

"The loss of bonus commodity flour will result in decreasing funds available for the child-nutrition program and in turn will result in a necessary raise in prices charged to students for school breakfast and lunch,'' said Wade R. Leech, director of the school-meals program in Wood County, W.Va.

Economic Burden

Officials from the department said that maintaining bonus flour would pose an economic burden on the country.

"At U.S.D.A., we do not believe we should maintain burdensome stocks of commodities--with their attendant harmful effects on farm income--for the purpose of providing bonus commodities under the school-lunch program,'' said Gary C. Martin, the deputy administrator for commodity operations, agricultural stabilization, and conservation service.

Some of those appearing at the hearing said they thought it was inconsistent for the department to end the distribution of bonus flour while spending about $1 billion a year to subsidize the sale of wheat in selected foreign countries.

Department officials, however, said the subsidies were necessary in order to make American agricultural products more competitive on the world market.--E.F.

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