WASHINGTON — Congress gave final approval Thursday to the biggest increase in funds to alleviate hunger in more than a decade, allocating $1.4 billion for feeding the needy over the next three years.
The bill, passed with overwhelming bipartisan support in the House and Senate on the last day before the start of a three-week recess, was sent to President Reagan. Sponsors said they expected him to sign the measure into law because it did not exceed budget ceilings.
Under the legislation, basic food stamp benefits would be raised in stages by $4.41 per person each month over the present average monthly level of $50 per recipient.
Food to Soup Kitchens
The Agriculture Department would be required to spend $112 million over the next three years for commodities that would be channeled to food banks and soup kitchens serving the homeless.
A temporary emergency food assistance program, serving an estimated 50 million persons, would be extended for two more years and the government would buy $120-million worth of food in the next two years for distribution to needy families.
In addition, school breakfast and child nutrition programs would be expanded and restrictions against farmers, farm workers, the elderly and the disabled in the food stamp program would be reduced.
Another provision would revise the system for imposing penalties on states with high rates of improper food stamp payments, ending sanctions for states whose records are better than average and targeting enforcement against states with the largest proportion of errors.
Effects of Drought
Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) said the additional federal assistance was justified in part because this year's drought will raise food prices.
"The effort to remover hunger in America is not a political issue or economic issue but a moral issue," Leahy said at a news conference.
Rep. Leon E. Panetta (D-Monterey), chairman of a House Agriculture subcommittee where the bill originated, noted: "The drought relief bill will help farmers to survive financially. This bill helps people survive, period."