State governments are cutting back on the federally funded program that furnishes food to needy women, infants and children because of rising milk, orange juice and cereal prices, according to a survey.

Thirty-six of 44 state governments said they were cutting their portions of the $2.1 billion Special Supplemental Food Program for Women, Infants and Children, also known as WIC. The survey was taken by the National Association of WIC directors.

Rep. Tony P. Hall (D-Ohio), chairman of the House Select Committee on Hunger, said a survey by his panel came up with virtually the same results.

"It means we won't have as many healthy children and mothers as we wanted because all of these people are medically at risk for malnutrition and anemia," Hall said.

The program provides poor women and their youngsters with vouchers redeemable at the grocery store for specific kinds of food in stated amounts. Included are milk, cheese, cereal, juice and infant formula. It provided food to a record high 4.55 million individuals in February.

The Agriculture Department's food and nutrition service had figured on inflation in food prices this year of a little more than 4 percent. Authorities said the cost of basic items has risen at about double the expected rate. Thus, grants to the states have not been enough to maintain benefit levels, prompting state officials to search for ways to economize.

Texas has cut the cereal allowance for 1-year-olds and 2-year-olds from 36 ounces a month to 24 ounces a month and will drop 27,000 program participants. Those receiving benefits reached a peak of 357,000 in January.

"When prices go up on food items, that means our budget won't go as far and we have to serve fewer people," said Ray Krzesniak, chief of staff services for the state Health Department's Bureau of Women, Infants and Children.