Since January 1982, the federal government has released 2.5 billion pounds of surplus cheese and other foods to charitable organizations for emergency feeding of the hungry, but lack of money for distribution could cripple the program, according to a study by Michael Lipsky, a professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Sponsored in part by the William H. Donner Foundation of New York, the study said the $50 million a year provided by the government to states and local agencies to help cover administrative and distribution costs is inadequate.
It said that New Jersey, New Hampshire and Vermont have left the program for want of administrative funds and that several other states have cut orders by 20 percent or more.
Congress recently approved an added $7 million for the last few weeks of fiscal 1985, but the study estimated that at least twice that amount is needed.
Under the program, foods -- primarily cheese -- that are in the federal-surplus stockpile because of farm price-support operations are delivered to state warehouses by the Agriculture Department.
The federal government does not charge for the food or its delivery to the states. State and local governments store the food and make it available to religious and charitable organizations running food pantries, soup kitchens and the like.
The study was based on interviews with more than 150 federal, state and local officials and officials of community feeding organizations.
It said the $50 million a year in grants to states should be raised at least 30 percent. The Reagan administration, however, in congressional testimony April 16 and a subsequent letter to the House Agriculture Committee, opposed giving the states anything to cover administrative costs. The Agriculture Department requested no money for administrative grants to the states for fiscal 1986.
Nevertheless, for fiscal 1986, the House voted a $50 million appropriation for distribution costs. The new farm bill being put together in the House includes a provision authorizing the distribution program to continue through fiscal 1986 and 1987 and authorizing $50 million each year for grants for distribution costs.
As many as 20 million people have benefited from the program, which has helped to reduce surpluses in the stockpile, the study said. "Nearly 1.5 billion pounds of cheese and 430 milion pounds of butter have been drawn out of surplus. Approximately $70 million has been saved in storage costs as a result," it said.
Under the law, a state must set eligibility standards. The study said half of the states allow people to receive the food if their annual income is under 130 percent of the federal poverty line -- about $10,600 for a family of four. It said nine states have a cutoff of 185 percent of the poverty line and the rest are at 150 percent.
It said that some rural areas lack a distribution network of community organizations and that some eligible people therefore do not receive the food.
Michael R. Lemov, director of the Food Research and Action Center, which has advocated expanding the program, said, "Our information is that the shortfall of administrative funding is substantial. The program ought to be at $100 million in fiscal 1986 in order to meet current needs and modest expansion for unserved areas."