A dramatic increase in the number of city dwellers going hungry is outstripping federal and local efforts to care for them, mayors from every region of the country said here today.
The mayors placed some of the blame on administrative problems in the Agriculture Department's distribution of surplus food. Some mayors, including Dianne Feinstein of San Francisco, said their allotments of surplus cheese and butter had been cut because of heavy lobbying by the grocery industry.
Detroit Mayor Coleman A. Young, calling the problem "probably the most prevalent and the most insidious" facing cities, told the 51st annual meeting of the U.S. Conference of Mayors that the economic recovery has not been broad enough to alleviate the recession's legacy of unemployment and hunger.
"In the past, the term 'economic recovery' used to mean a reduction in human suffering because people were back to work," said Young, the conference's president. "We now have a new definition, under which individuals may continue to suffer but profit margins start to increase."
A rapid proliferation of soup kitchens, food pantries and emergency telephone "hot lines" has failed to keep up with the growing demand for food, according to the mayors' conference report to a Senate agriculture subcommittee. The report examined eight cities of varying economic health and found that five--Detroit, Denver, Nashville, Oakland and San Antonio--were having to turn away some hungry residents.
Sen. Mark Andrews (R-N.D.), the subcommittee chairman, blamed the problem on "mismanagement and inefficiency" in the Agriculture Department's distribution of surplus commodities. At the subcommittee's hearing here, he said, "We have tens of billions of dollars worth of surplus commodities. We have hungry people in our urban areas. And somehow we aren't able to get them together," he said.
Nashville Mayor Richard Fulton said that although five million pounds of surplus butter and cheese were stored in his city, federal officials told him it was earmarked for other regions and could not be used before the completion of paper work that would take at least 60 days. When he finally won approval to hand out some butter and cheese, Fulton said, it had to be shipped in from elsewhere in the country.
"The lines are getting longer, and the people are getting younger," said Fulton, who is encountering new delays in trying to distribute surplus corn meal, dried milk, rice and honey. "The people who come to get their cheese are people with whom I had gone to school. It is embarrassing for them, and it is embarrassing for me."
Bud Wessman, mayor of Grand Forks, N.D., said that he can't afford to get surplus butter and cheese to outlying areas but that with $10,000 for administrative costs, "we could handle twice the amount of commodities each month."
Here in Denver, where unemployment is a relatively low 7.4 percent, city officials distributed almost twice as much food last year as in 1981. More than 100 food banks are providing packaged food to these residents, many of whom are living in city shelters and boarding houses. One thousand people reportedly line up each day for hot meals at the city's food centers.
Jane Collins, director of social work for Denver's hospitals, said that emergency rooms here are seeing a growing number of transients whose illnesses are caused by a lack of food and shelter. Hospitals see about 18 to 20 patients a month who are "absolutely destitute for food," she said.
Detroit has had a five-fold increase in emergency food aid since 1980, Young said, with up to 50,000 families receiving surplus cheese and butter every month and 250 people calling the mayor's food "hot line" every day.
The number of people needing emergency food has doubled or tripled in the last year in Cleveland, New Orleans and Rochester, N.Y., although those cities have managed to meet the demand, the mayors' report said.
Oakland officials said that they are unable to get supplemental food to 30,000 people who need it. And, while 10,000 families received food aid in San Antonio last year, 50,000 are expected to ask for help this year.
Earlier today, Sen. Ernest F. Hollings (D-S.C.) told Democratic mayors here that his rivals for the presidential nomination cannot win the White House because they are viewed as big spenders.
"If former vice president Walter F. Fritz Mondale or California Sen. Alan Cranston was elected tomorrow, instead of a $200 billion deficit, there would be a $400 billion deficit," he said. "The B1 bomber, the MX--Cranston and Ohio Sen. John Glenn are voting for them right on down the line. I just don't think we can really afford them."
Hollings said that he would spend $14 billion on increasing teachers' salaries and would finance the program by scrapping the MX missile.