Gov. Harry R. Hughes' task force on hunger urged him today to set up a new office of nutrition and to fatten the state's contribution to federally supported food programs by up to $40 million to combat what it called the growing problem of hunger.
"There is in my judgment irrefutable evidence that we are in the midst of an escalating problem rather than a diminishing one," said Dr. David M. Paige of the Johns Hopkins University School of Hygiene and Public Health, who chaired the Governor's Task Force on Food and Nutrition.
The task force recommended in its 186-page report, unveiled at a press conference here, that the state increase its contributions to welfare and food stamp recipients, to the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program and to nutrition for the elderly, 11 percent of whom the report identified as poor.
Much of the hunger that the 10-member task force identified throughout the state involved short-term deprivation brought about by federal cuts in aid programs, Paige said at the press conference. No precise figures on the extent of hunger in Maryland were provided but Paige said greater demands are being placed on public and private emergency food programs.
"It is not the same type of devastating hunger which exists in Third World countries," he added. "But the problem is equally as profound."
An investment of $15 million in state funds, task force members said, would pay for all of the task force recommendations except the welfare grant increase.
In Baltimore, state Department of Human Resources spokeswoman Wanda L. Dobson estimated that the welfare grant increase recommended by the task force would cost another $25 million over one year.
This money would go to increase the minimum aid to families with dependent children (AFDC) for a welfare family of three from $313 to $433 per month, Paige said. The state has said that in 1984 a family of three has budgetary needs of a minimum of $658 per month.
"Our fondest hope is that some of this money would be included in the executive budget," said State Sen. Nathan Irby (D-Baltimore).
Hughes, who, according to an aide, received the task force's recommendations sympathetically in a noon meeting, said he will respond to the suggestions within 30 days.
Whether the governor will include all or part of the recommendations in his 1985-86 budget will be determined after revenue estimates are received from the comptroller's office in mid-December, spokesman Lou Panos said.
Based on poverty statistics provided by the state, the task force estimated that about 62 percent of those eligible for food stamps are served by that program, costing the state $2 million to $4 million years in federal funds.
Also, only 27 percent of Maryland public school students who are eligible for free meals at school are taking advantage of the National School Lunch and Child Nutrition Programs.
The Montgomery County Food Network, a joint effort between county and private groups, reported last month that it has made 22,606 emergency food deliveries to that county's needy so far this year, more than in all of 1983.
The Maryland Food Bank, a Baltimore-based charity, said it provides over 500,000 pounds of food each month to the needy served by private food kitchens and programs.
But state official Dobson said, "The money meant for food may not always go for food because all other costs are so great."
Said task force member Irby, "It's a question oftentimes of deciding whether you're going to heat or eat."