WASHINGTON — The supply of surplus food stored at taxpayer expense has been reduced so much that the government will cut donations to food banks and soup kitchens, officials said Tuesday.
For the 12 months that began Oct. 1, it will mean 210 million pounds of free cheese, compared to 420 million pounds in 1986-87; 48 million pounds of nonfat dry milk, instead of 96 million; 48 million pounds of honey, instead of 96 million, and 90 million pounds of rice, instead of 180 million.
Federal policies and decisions by dairy farmers have slowed, at least temporarily, the rapid milk production increases of the early 1980s that led to huge government inventories of butter, cheese and powdered milk.
Diane J. Durant of the Agriculture Department's Food and Nutrition Service said the reduction means commodities actually will begin to run out by April. That is because the food is being doled out to the states at the previous monthly rates, she said.
But Durant cautioned that the projections are still highly tentative and that some authorities say there is a possibility of the department replenishing its dairy surplus inventories if farmers continue to step up milk production.
Department officials expect to have a better idea of what may happen by January, Durant said. Meanwhile, the agency must notify the states--which delegate food distribution to local sponsors such as food banks--of levels they can expect in the coming year.
"This is tentative, and it may change dramatically," she said.
Some other surplus commodities will be distributed at last year's level, she said, including corn meal, 48 million pounds; butter, 72 million, and flour, 144 million.
According to the department's Commodity Credit Corp., which controls the government-owned surpluses, uncommitted inventories on Sept. 30 included 82.3 million pounds of butter, down from 193.8 million pounds on Sept. 30, 1986; 98.5 million pounds of cheese, down from 558.7 million, and 63.1 million pounds of nonfat dry milk, down from 696.6 million.
Between 15 million and 18 million people have been getting some free food each month under the programs, according to USDA estimates.