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resolution, and a determination to be made by the Secretary of Agriculture on the needs for school breakfast and nonfood assistance funds for expansion of the school breakfast and school lunch programs in accordance with the law.
A resolution identical to House Joint Resolution 889 was reported by the Senate Agriculture and Forestry Committee on September 29 and, as the distinguished chairman said, it was passed by a vote of 75 to 5 in the other body on October 1 with an amendment to provide not less than 6 cents per meal for all lunches served under the school lunch program.
That is the faulty part of the resolution that I introduced. This reimbursement should be a minimum of 6 cents all the way across the board.
I also support this change because it will strengthen the entire school lunch program.
It became abundantly clear to me, following the publication by the Department of Agriculture on August 13, of the amendments to the school lunch regulations, that a genuine state of anxiety was created on all levels of school lunch service. State directors, city directors, local programs operators, parents, teachers and organizations interested in hunger and nutrition, wired and wrote to me that the school lunch programs in their areas would be facing disaster if the regulations as proposed were permitted to become final.
Particular concerns were expressed about the State average reimbursement rate of 30 cents for free and reduced price lunches. The school systems claimed that they were caught in the double pinch of rising food costs and the freeze on the price that could be charged for school lunches this year, as compared with last year. In addition, most school budgets for the year had already been finalized and, therefore, local money needed to fill the gap would not become available.
Furthermore, many school systems, in compliance with Public Law 91–248, were working toward a program of feeding their substandard income children for the first time in the new school year, and now found themselves with reduced reimbursement funds. All of these factors—the need to feed more children at a free or reduced price, the price freeze, the shortage of local money, and rising food costsshould have suggested to the Department that there would be a need for substantially more funds to be made available immediately rather than a cutback in the average reimbursement rate to 30 cents.
A survey, which was conducted by the Committee on Education and Labor before the start of the new school year on the projected needs for the school lunch program, reveals that during the 1970–71 school year a total of 6.38 million children were receiving free and reduced price lunches.
We asked the State directors to give us their best estimate of the number of children who would be eligible under the 1971-72 poverty index figure of $3,940, and their reply was 8.87 million children. We further asked how many children they felt would be reached with a free or reduced price lunch through existing and expanded programs, and their reply was 7.76 million children, which represents an increase of 1.38 million children over the 1970-71 school year figure.
Translated into dollar figures, the State directors have estimated that it will take $513 million in special assistance under section 11 and section 32 funds to meet the national needs for free or reduced price lunches. This contrasts to the $390 million budgeted by the Department of Agriculture.
On August 26-prior to the deadline for submitting recommendations- I wrote Secretary Hardin urging the Department of Agriculture to reconsider the new regulations with particular reference to this question of the 30-cent reimbursement rate. I have since written to the President expressing to him the urgency that had been communicated to me from every corner of the land.
In my judgment, and in the judgment of many officials with whom I have spoken, not only will the progress of the past few years be arrested, but there is every likelihood that existing programs will be curtailed. For example, the director of the Pittsburgh program advised me, "Implementing changes so close to the opening of school will cost Pittsburgh a loss of reimbursement in September and could well sink the entire program.
Further, the committee survey asked each State to indicate the average rate of reimbursement from Federal funds which will be required-over and above the rate of section 4 reimbursement—to finance the expected service of free and reduced price meals. Thirty-four States indicated they will require a reimbursement rate in excess of the 30-cent average rate provided for in the new regulations. A majority of the States indicated a requirement of 40 cents or more.
Finally, I should mention that, in numerous instances, the States requested a section 4 reimbursement rate of more than the 5-cent average rate provided for in the regulations. In the face of increased costs, an average reimbursement rate of 5 cents in section 4 funds will result in higher costs per lunch to paying students. As a result, according to many experts, participation in the program will decrease with the unfortunate outcome that there will be less support at the local level for the entire school lunch program, including the provision of free and reduced price lunches.
As I indicated earlier, the need for action to resolve this situation is urgent. The school year is already well underway. The Department's regulations on the use of funds have not been issued. School districts are being required under law to provide lunches to all needy children, but the districts have scant knowledge of where the money will come from to pay the cost.
The resolution before you, as passed by the Senate, would remove the uncertainty and confusion which is jeopardizing our efforts to feed hungry children.
I strongly recommend your serious consideration and adoption of this measure.
Mr. Chairman, let me state in conclusion that I know that much progress has been made under the present administration insofar as improving the school lunch program and I want to compliment them, but for the reason cited before this committee for the sake of $150 or $200 million we can do serious harm to the school lunch program where it will not recover for many years to come if we permit these regulations now to go into effect, because the regular school lunch pro
gram is going to take off so much to feed the needy that you are just not going to have a school lunch program that will be satisfactory and people will commence to drop out of it and get discouraged.
Many schools with this reimbursement rate, school districts, cannot afford a school lunch program for the needy and we could jeopardize all the gains for the sake of $100 or $200 million. When we got up to the point of spending more than a billion dollars on such a great program, perhaps the greatest program of all of our programs insofar as child development is concerned in this country, it is odd to me that we cannot come forth and support or adopt regulations which will correct these injustices and feed these needy children and strengthen our school lunch program in this country. I am most hopeful, Mr. Chairman.
I again want to compliment you and all the members of this committee that this resolution can be reported tomorrow, so that we can get it before the House by the next suspension date or get it before the Rules Committee or get it before the House. We need to move this at the earliest possible moment and I intend to call the full commmittee together and I would hope to report it out of the full committee next week.
Mr. Pucixski. Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. I appreciate this very excellent statement. I think you certainly put in a proper perspective the dimension of the problem. We are going to be hearing from Secretary Lyng very shortly to see what the administration view is on this matter.
Mr. PERKINS. I do want to state that we should add in there with the resolution that we have introduced it has faulted the 6-cent reimbursement rate for the regular school lunch program. That is needed by all means. Everything skyrocketed, and while everything is going up, inflation has taken its toll on the cost of everything else.
We have done so little in connection with the reimbursement rate for our schoolchildren; we have just done nothing in that area.
Mr. Pucinski. Now as I understand this, we have passed legislation and led the local school districts across the country to believe and rely on the fact that they would have certain funds forthcoming. As you say in your statement on page 2, as a result of that anticipated assistance most school district budgets are locked up for the year.
Mr. PERKINS. That is correct. In many States like Kentucky the legislature will not meet until next year and there is not one thing they can do about it and all their local funds have been allocated either at the local or State level.
Mr. PUCINSKI. Would you know offhand what is the total amount of deficiency in the administration's present program, not counting todav's amendment ? Now I understand it was $330 million to carry out the intent of Congress as we had incorporated in our own action when we passed our legislation here by
Mr. PERKINS. I understand if we could get about $175 million, that we could live with it maybe.
Mr. Pucinski. In other words, you feel that the deficiency is about $175 million?
Vr. PERKINS, Yes.
Mr. PERKINS. That would be the 40-cent minimum and take care of the 6-cent reimbursement.
Mr. PUCINSKI. Now, of course, the administration today has proposed a 40-cent State average and a 5-cent
Mr. PERKINS. That won't do the job. It will be so discouraging to some of the school lunchrooms in the country where they need the funds the most, where they will be locked in and with no additional revenue. For instance, in my district every school launch director and every county board of education is on me down there about these regulation. It is just destroying them. They could not do anything about it, they were locked in, no additional funds and it was just going to cut the heart out of all the regular school lunch programs in all these districts.
Mr. Pucinski. Perhaps you may want to reflect on that for a moment. I am under the impression that the administration's proposal of a 40-cent State average and 5 cents across the board totals $135 million as announced today. I am under the impression that to go to the 40cent State average and a 6-cent reimbursement, as you propose, would require another $110 million.
Mr. PERKINS. We hardly think it will cost that much money, but even if it did, it would be the cheapest insurance against what we are trying to do here to solve this problem of any money that can possibly be expended.
Mr. PUCINSKI. But your own judgment is that -
If the administration today has already committed an additional $135 million, then we are really only $40 million apart. It would seem to me that we should not have all that much trouble then in passing your legislation and trying to find that $40 million.
Mr. PERKINS. I think that legislation will go through the House just about unanimously, in my judgment.
Mr. Pucinski. Mr. Chairman, where would you propose that the additional money be forthcoming from?
Mr. PERKINS. Section 32. That is provided for in the resolution.
Mr. PUCINSKI. All it means is that we will return that much less to the Treasury?
Mr. PERKINS. That is correct.
Mr. PUCINSKI. On those section 32 funds that are unexpended; is that right?
Mr. PERKINS. Well, the resolution I understand provides that there be a supplemental to replace that which Jimmy Whitney stated that he was agreeable to some time ago.
Mr. PUCINSKI. Do I understand correctly now that if we do not take this additional money that would be needed to carry out your proposal, that that money then returns back to the Treasury?
Mr. PERKINS. That is correct.
Mr. PUCINSKI. So in passing your resolution we are not really increasing the drain or the pressures on the budget itself. This money is there no matter how you expend it?
Mr. Perkins. This money is there and it is not being utilized, but we do provide in the resolution for a reimbursement of it. I mean for a supplemental appropriation if it is necessary.
Mr. PUCINSKI. Now I have seen a number of editorials across the country which reflect pretty much the outrage of people throughout the country in trying to fight inflation and balance
the budget and do all kinds of other things at the expense of needy children participating in a lunch program.
I think that if we had included those editorials, which do reflect the spirit of the people in those communities, it would be a rather impressive record. Have you seen any of those editorials ?
Mr. PERKINS. I have seen some stories, but I don't recall about editorials. I have talked to the best experts in the country and those are the people involved. I have talked to dozens of people and that is much better evidence than any editorial statement that you can read.
I have talked to the lunchroom directors, I have talked to the people who provide the funds, I have talked to the court members, the school board members and the school administrators and I don't know. If anybody knows the problem, they are the experts, and they all tell me that the guidelines should be revised because if you don't they will have the effect of pulling down this great program and in many instances destroying it in certain communities.
Mr. PUCINSKI. Now we are anticipating in 1971-72 some 25 million children are being reached with this school lunch program, which is about a 9- to 10-percent increase over last year. Do you have any estimates or does anyone have any figures to indicate how many of these children would have to be either outright denied lunches or average substantially reduced lunch programs?
Mr. PERKINS. There will be millions and millions if we don't do this job.
Mr. PUCINSKI. We don't have any survey of any precise figure?
Mr. PERKINS. No precise figure, but we have got some statistics along that line. I think the committee has gathered some statistics.
Mr. PUCINSKI. The point you made about budgets being locked in, of course, is the problem that I think is most serious.
Mr. PERKINS. Yes.
Mr. PUCINSKI. Now as a local school administrator, and we have here a raft of telegrams, and this is just a little bit that came in today, we have a good deal more than have been coming in over the last few days from all over the country. This is really an impressive cross section. It is not from any one section of the country. But these telegrams are all pleading for support of your legislation to save them from what some call the disaster.
So apparently your statement that there would be a great number of systems that would have to severely curtail their programs is fortified by these people out in the field.
Well, Mr. Chairman, I want to thank you for your very forthright statement.
Mr. BELL. No questions; it is a pleasure to have you before our subcommittee.
Mr. PUCINSKI, Thank you very much.