A proposal by Sen. Robert J. Dole (R-Kan.) to give more than $1 billion of surplus federal food to the needy this year got a warm bipartisan reception in the Senate yesterday, but the Reagan administration was keeping its distance from the plan.
While Dole's bill appeared certain to win quick approval by the nutrition subcommittee he chairs, it also seemed headed toward entanglement in the larger debate on Capitol Hill between the administration and House Democrats over a package of recession economic aid.
Critics have charged that the $4.3 billion White House package of jobs and recession relief does not adequately meet nutrition needs of the unemployed and poor, particularly when federal warehouses are bulging with surplus food.
The Dole plan, with a dozen cosponsors, would make surpluses available on a permanent basis to food banks, food kitchens, churches, schools and other nonprofit, charitable organizations that feed the needy. The proposal also would provide funds for processing and transporting raw goods.
The plan is one of a number designed not only to provide recession relief but to boost the sagging agricultural economy through export credits, farm tax relief and crop reductions.
After a subcommittee hearing yesterday, Dole complained that his GOP allies at the White House had not briefed him on Reagan's proposed aid package and that he was unable to get an administration commitment on his surplus-food distribution plan.
The administration has distributed surplus cheese and butter since last summer. It has refused to make other surplus U.S. farm products available domestically, although it is proposing surplus distribution overseas as part of its program of reducing stocks.
Dole said: "Before sharing our abundance with friends and trading partners overseas, we have a moral obligation to make the same supplies available to hungry Americans."
Earlier this month, however, Department of Agriculture officials notified the American School Food Service Association that the department could not support its proposal to donate surplus grain products to the national school lunch program.
Dole's plan expands on the school-lunch group's idea, providing for processing and transportation. Wheat, for example, would be turned over to millers and bakers who would produce flour and baked goods for subsequent distribution at little or no cost to charitable organizations.
The proposal would reduce federal inventories by about a third this year, drawing down price-depressing stocks and cutting $600,000-a-day storage costs, Dole said.
Sen. John Melcher (D-Mont.), although supportive of Dole's proposal, worried that it might create a new level of bureaucracy in the states. But Barbara Temple, a food-bank official from Philadelphia, warned that unless Congress moves quickly, a nutrition disaster awaits the needy.
"When you contemplate the additional $1 billion in food-stamp cuts proposed by the administration, it is staggering," Temple said. "No commodity program can have an impact if food stamps are cut again. It will be no more than a Band-Aid."
Also yesterday, a special budget review panel of the House Agriculture Committee decided to recommend rejection of $700 million in direct spending cuts proposed by the administration for farm-support programs in 1984. Rep. E (Kika) de la Garza (D-Tex.), chairman of the full committee and the budget panel, said: "If there isn't any food, there isn't any ball game."