Proposal May Limit Cambridge Food Services

A House Republican proposal to consolidate a broad range of federal nutrition programs into one threatens to severely limit the food services thousands of Cantabrigians receive each year.

The Personal Responsibility Act (PRA)--part of the Republicans' Contract with America--would eliminate all major federal nutrition programs, including food stamps, school lunch and breakfast programs, elderly meals, "Meals on Wheels" and the special supplemental nutrition program for women, infants and children(WIC).

However, Governor William F. Weld '66 said yesterday at a brown bag lunch at the Kennedy School that the state would step in to make sure some of the programs continued to be funded.

"School lunches and school break-fasts is something where we're not going to leave kids in the lurch," Weld said.

While the governor said he agreed with the proposed consolidation of the entitlements into a single block grant, he added that the state could increase funding to keep the programs at current levels.


"I find amounts up to $100 million all the time," Weld said. "We're going to be able to address the funding needs of high-profile programs like these."

Several Programs Threatened

In place of the current entitlement programs, the Republican measure would substitute a single block grant whose annual appropriation would be determined by Congress.

Entitlements are guaranteed to all citizens who qualify, usually measured through income guidelines. Appropriations are fixed and can be exhausted once spending limits are reached.

This could have two effects. The plan would give Boston much more control over the regulation and administration of the nutrition programs. If the Republicans' call for a five-percent cut is met, the city could expect a sharp reduction in both services and the number of residents receiving them.

In addition, the proposal would remove federal nutrition guidelines for administering the programs and allow states to determine their own standards.

At stake in Cambridge is the WIC program, which provides neo-natal food and milk, nutritional advice and health counseling to 1,673 Cambridge residents and an additional 952 people in six other towns.

Also threatened by cuts are the city's school lunch and breakfast programs, which provided 2,841 free or reduced-price meals in 1994. About three-fourths of all Cambridge elementary and high school students qualify for the exemptions.

An array of meals programs--including free meals for the elderly and homeless--may also face reductions.

'No Flexibility'