Food Stamps Are a Vital Program Your story on food stamp fraud {Cover, Jan. 8} may have left readers with a misunderstanding of the causes of hunger and the extent of fraud within the food stamp program.

Fraud is not a primary cause of hunger. Hunger is a condition of poverty and, in our nation today, nearly 32 million people -- including 12.6 million children -- are poor. The food stamp program is our nation's first line of defense against hunger. People who participate in the food stamp program have very low incomes. More than 87 percent of participants are children, elderly people or women.

Estimates of fraud by the U.S. Department of Agriculture are very low. As your article points out, penalties are being stiffened and other ways of delivering benefits are being tried.

The larger problem, as the story tragically illustrates, is the despair engendered by poverty and addiction. In an environment devoid of resources and hope and surrounded by real and perceived barriers to escape, it is not surprising that, in some cases, food stamps become currency in a cruel but pragmatic underground economy. Robert J. Fersh Executive director Food Research & Action Center Washington

Legacy of a Birthmark As one who has a port-wine birthmark covering 25 percent of the face, I found the article on a new technique to remove such birthmarks permanently {Children's Health, Jan. 8} a disturbing treatment of the subject on several levels. First, in the initial visit by the neonatologist his insensitivity and lack of explanation to the family were cruel and reflect poorly on the profession. Second, despite the observation of the "psychological damage" of port-wine stains, I doubt that anyone could prove such a connection.

Last, as a parent I understand that one wishes the very best for one's children. However, the writer's focus on the cosmetics of the birthmark, even to the extent of not photographing her child, seems an extreme reaction. She should clarify her expectations and be careful not to burden her child with them. It would help to understand that her "extroverted 5-month-old" daughter would be the same delightful child with or without the birthmark.

A much better solution would be to have the child choose, at an appropriate age, whether the birthmark should be removed. This option was presented to me by my parents -- an option I refused since I have never felt excluded or denied anything because of my birthmark. The birthmark has never "defined" me -- I was always allowed to define myself, the true gift my parents gave me and the one I hope to give my children. Philip E. Aronson Alexandria

Our beautiful 11-year-old daughter has a similar-looking birthmark on her face. Rather than being appalled at her appearance, we decided early on that this birthmark was not important in defining her.

Our pediatrician advised that we cover her birthmark "so that it never became an issue with her." Although we respect this physician and considered his advice, we felt that covering the birthmark made it more important and certainly gave our daughter the message that it was unattractive and should be hidden.

Every parent wants to protect their children from ridicule. No parent wants a child to feel different and be subject to the taunts of others. When our daughter met with a dermatologist, at her request, to discuss laser surgery this year, she rejected the procedure. She is not uncomfortable with her looks. I hope this is because we never were. Sharan London Potomac

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