Spending Plan Drops ‘Middle-Income’ Food Subsidies

By Alina Tugend — February 12, 1986 2 min read

President Reagan’s budget for fiscal 1987 proposes to change laws governing federal child-nutrition programs, which include the school-lunch and breakfast programs, to produce cuts of about $775 million.

The budget released last week proposes funding the programs at $3.82 billion; under current law, spending in 1987 for the programs is projected to total $4.58 billion.

Most of the child-nutrition programs are exempt from the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings deficit-reduction law.

One of the most controversial changes suggested is the elimination of about $721 million in “middle-income subsidies” for breakfast and lunch programs in schools and federally funded day-care centers. Children whose parents make above 185 percent of the poverty line, or about $19,000 a year for a family of four, would be affected.

Elimination of such subsidies was part of the President’s budget proposal last year, but failed to win Congressional approval.

Advocacy groups have expressed concern that schools with a relatively large proportion of middle-income students may choose to leave the program if the President’s proposal is adopted, because without the subsidies the program would no longer be economically feasible for such schools.

Loss of Participants

Schools are not required, under federal law, to provide free or reduced-price meals unless they volunteer to participate in the national school-lunch program. About 23-million children participate in the program nationwide, and according to budget documents, half of the students receiving school-lunch subsidies are considered middle-income.

The middle-income subsidy “is not a transfer payment to individuals, but a grant-in-aid to schools to support the basic infrastructure of the school-lunch program,” said Gene White, legislative chairman of the American School Food Service Association.

The President’s budget proposes reducing funding for the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) feeding program from $1.63 billion to $1.62 billion, according to figures from the Office of Management and Budget.

Program Reductions

Because of the reduction, some 27,000 participants would have to be removed from the program in 1987, according to an analysis by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities in Washington.

The budget also proposes eliminating the $5-million Nutrition and Education Training Program and reducing funding for the special milk program, which provides half-pints of milk to children in schools and institutions that do not participate in federal feeding programs, from $16.3 million to $1.4 million.

The President’s budget runs counter to legislation, HR 7, passed by the House and Senate last year and now being negotiated in conference. The legislation would reauthorize the child-nutrition programs at least at current-service levels for the next three years.

A version of this article appeared in the February 12, 1986 edition of Education Week as Budget Proposals: Spending Plan Drops ‘Middle-Income’ Food Subsidies