The Washington Post

November 2, 1983, Wednesday, Final Edition


HEADLINE: Back to Bread Lines

ACCORDING TO AN article published by the Heritage Foundation, hungry people
in America have only themselves to blame. Food aid programs don't work, says
author James Bovard, because many families who get it "fail to budget
properly." He suggests that, rather than food stamps, "vitamin pills and soup
kitchens" might be more suitable forms of aid.

Of course, having 34 million poor people line up every day for rations might
prove to be something of a logistical problem. At the very least, the queues
would impede downtown traffic. The long lines might also send the average
commuter home with the uncomfortable feeling that all is not well in the land
of plenty. Nor will a return to subsistence farming--Mr. Bovard blames
agricultural mechanization, induced by the minimum wage, for much of the poverty
problem--commend itself to many as a desirable course for this country's
economic and social development.

Still, it is worth inquiring whether, despite billions spent on federal food
programs, people in this country go to bed hungry. One piece of evidence is that
lines at soup kitchens and other emergency food centers are long and growing.
Many studies-- including one by the General Accounting Office-- now attest to
that fact. But, the Agriculture Department responds, the people waiting
patiently for food handouts aren't necessarily "in need." They might just be
passing the time of day.

Rep. Leon Panetta's nutrition subcommittee recently heard testimony relevant
to this point. A survey conducted last summer in New York state found that most
people showing up at emergency centers, health clinics and government offices
are consuming far fewer calories than recommended by the National Academy of
Sciences. Note that we are not talking about vitamins, proteins and minerals--
just basic energy-producing calories.

The medical students who conducted this scientifically designed survey also
found that, contrary to Mr. Bovard's surmise, emergency food program clients
are not frittering away their cash on inessentials. Those sampled reported
spending almost 70 percent of their money on food. The problem is that many
people simply don't have enough money to supplement food stamps, as the law
assumes they will, let alone cover their other basic needs.

President Reagan wrote in a recent memo that "if even one American child is
forced to go to bed hungry at night . . . that is a national tragedy." Well,
nearly 20 percent of the parents surveyed said they sometimes send their
children to bed hungry. The president might keep that in mind when he reviews
the new plans for food stamp cuts that his Agriculture Department is now