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Lawmakers Eyeing More Money For Food Programs

February 24, 1990

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Lawmakers are taking steps to ensure that feeding programs for the poor don’t get short-shrift treatment in the congressional draft of this year’s major farm bill.

Legislation called the Mickey Leland Memorial Domestic Hunger Relief Act will be introduced Tuesday to improve food stamp and surplus commodity distribution programs to the tune of $600 million.

It’s a joint House-Senate measure in honor of the former chairman of the House Select Comittee on Hunger who was killed in an airplane crash last year during a visit to Ethiopia.

The bill goes farther than the Bush administration proposals, but is expected to become the nutrition title of the farm bill without major changes.

″To me, nutrition programs are not just a title added on to the end of the farm bill,″ said Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, whose staff helped write the legislation. ″To me, nutrition programs are a test of the conscience of this nation. This farm bill cannot be complete until the needs of the hungry are met.″

The proposed legislation calls for an additional $600 million in spending for both food stamp and free food programs over the current budget year, which ends Sept. 30.

The Temporary Emergency Food Assistance Program changes would require the government to raise from $120 million to $190 million the amount it spends on of high protein food distributed free to the poor each year.

The legislation also would require the government to spend $32 million on commodities to be supplied to soup kitchens throughout the five-year life of the farm bill.

The food assistance programs are used widely in rural areas where food stamps are difficult to get. About 15,000 food distribution centers, mostly churches, hand out food the government purchases especially for the program and surplus commodities already owned by the government.

A key change in the food stamp program is a provision that would take greater account of higher housing costs.

″Studies show that some low income families pay up to 70 percent of their income in rent,″ said Ann Kittlaus, spokeswoman for Food Research and Action Center, which has been lobbying for the improvements.

The new legislation would not set a dollar limit on how much a person can pay in rent and still qualify for food stamps.

A release from Rep. Leon Panetta, D-Calif., said that Kittlaus’ organization and 100 religious, government, health and low-income advocacy groups endorsed a ″statement of principles that are embodied in this bill.″

Panetta, who once headed the House Agriculture subcommittee on domestic marketing and nutrition, is now chairman of the House Budget Committee. His interest is significant.

″We’ve made some very good progress with hunger relief legislation to repeal some of the damage done in the early 1980s,″ Panetta said in an interview with the National Journal. ″The problem we now have is that some barriers still remain.″

Kittlaus, whose organizations works nationally and has lobbied hard over the years to improve programs for the poor, said she was encouraged by the Bush administration’s approach to these problems.

″We’ve been in a lot more contact with the USDA than we ever were during the Reagan years,″ she said. ″Their proposals are not everything we would like them to be, but at least they are listening.″

″At least they are saying there is hunger in America,″ she said.

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