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Panel Backs Bill To Retain Federal Control of School-Meals Programs

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The Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry last week lined up behind a proposal by its chairman, Sen. Richard G. Lugar, R-Ind., to back continued federal control of the school-nutrition and food-stamp programs.

The committee made no changes to a nutrition bill that Mr. Lugar introduced June 9, and swiftly approved the measure on an 11-to-7 vote.

Supporters say the bill, S. 904, would produce $19.4 billion in savings over five years, with about $500 million to $700 million of the savings to come from child-nutrition programs.

The measure is to be offered as an amendment when the Senate takes up welfare-reform legislation. That could occur as early as this week.

Mr. Lugar's bill would make few substantive changes to child-nutrition programs, although it would freeze for two years the reimbursement rate schools receive for meals and snacks for nonpoor children, and freeze federal commodities aid for one year for those same meals.

The legislation would also reduce nutrition subsidies for middle- and upper-income children in family day-care homes. More than two-thirds of the children in those settings are estimated to come from families with incomes above 185 percent of the federal poverty line, according to the committee.

The agriculture panel will likely have to reconsider spending cuts for nutrition and farm-subsidy programs when it receives budget-reconciliation mandates later this year. The Senate's budget resolution calls for $28 billion over five years in cuts to agricultural spending.

The Senate panel's action stands in sharp contrast to House legislation passed in March, which would turn command of school-meals initiatives over to the states by replacing the current federal programs--some of them entitlements with guaranteed funding--with block grants. (See Education Week, 3/29/95.)

Welfare Debate Stalled

That proposal was widely criticized as an attack on poor children, and Mr. Lugar and others on the committee had indicated in recent weeks that they would prefer to leave control of the child-nutrition programs in federal hands. (See Education Week, 6/7/95.)

House-Senate differences will be worked out by a conference committee, where the block-grant concept could die if Democrats and Senate Republicans united in opposition.

Floor consideration of welfare-reform legislation was delayed last week by divisions among Senate Republicans over sev~eral provisions of the Senate Fi~n~ance Committee's bill, which will form the bulk of the welfare package.

The proposed "family self-sufficiency act of 1995" would transfer control of most federal welfare programs to the states in the form of block grants. But the Finance Committee's version of HR 4 would impose fewer restrictions on states than the companion House bill.

Some Senate Republicans criticized the committee for not including measures designed to reduce out-of-wedlock births, as the House bill does. Other lawmakers argued that more safeguards needed to be imposed on states to protect poor children.

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