A task force studying hunger in Maryland said yesterday that the state could qualify for up to $70 million in additional federal funds for school meals and nutrition programs for the elderly by spending a maximum of $5 million.

Dr. David Paige, chairman of the Governor's Task Force on Food and Nutrition, said that one-third to one-half of the $70 million could be reimbursed to state coffers if all of the state's eligible poor -- mostly children and the elderly -- took advantage of available aid programs.

"The school breakfast program, for example, enrolls 18 percent of those eligible for the program," Paige said in an interview. "If everyone who was eligible participated, that's about $30 million the state could recover."

The state could recover the rest of the $70 million by expanding outreach programs for food stamps, the task force found.

The Maryland Food Committee, a private Baltimore-based group that focuses on hunger, is preparing a package of legislation to implement the task force recommendations, said Linda Eisenberg, assistant director of the committee.

"The climate may be right this year to push school meals and elderly nutrition programs," Paige said.

Eisenberg said that the state's current expenditures of about $21 million for food programs is a "breathtakingly minuscule" portion of its $300 million federal food aid spending this year. "There is a tremendous need for what is mostly an invisible population."

She said 47 percent of the state's frail elderly are not served by Meals on Wheels programs because of federal cuts in that program.

The task force's preliminary report a year ago found that hunger in Maryland is found mostly among the state's working poor and public aid recipients. "Most of us are only a paycheck away from being in that kind of situation," said Eisenberg.

One-third of the state's public schools, Paige said, have no subsidized meal programs even though statistics show that about 150,000 children in the state qualify under poverty guidelines.

"Money the state could be getting, we're not getting, because the children are not eating the meals," Eisenberg said.