WASHINGTON -- The Reagan administration will give more government-owned food to the poor, channeling some bulk commodities through the states, which in turn can arrange for processing the food into consumer-sized quantities.
The effort will increase existing distribution of American processed cheese, cheddar cheese, corn meal, non-fat dry milk and honey to needy Americans, an Agriculture Department spokesman said.
Secretary John Block announced the initiative Monday in Nashville, Tenn. David Lane, a spokesman, provided sketchy details, saying amounts of additional surplus commodities to be distributed would be announced later.
The government's current distribution program relies on processing by large private firms, Lane said. States that accept the offer can arrange for processing of the bulk commodities by smaller local firms, he said.
'A lot of this is going to depend on the individual states being able to handle what we give them,' he said.
Meanwhile, 28 people staged a short sit-in at the Agriculture Department and vowed to fast until more government-owned commodities are distributed to the poor. The sit-in and fast was organized by the same group that has refused to eat since July 4 in Kansas City, Mo., to demand more government food giveaways.
Rich Miller, representing the Washington protesters, said Monday night the Kansas City group was pleased about the announcement and would end their fast Tuesday with a potluck lunch. He said the decision came mostly because 'it was a question of getting a sense that what the USDA is doing is a gesture of good faith and wanting to respond in kind.'
Miller said the Kansas City contingent was 'happy and physically doing all right.'
Lane said it was coincidental Block announced his new policy at mid-day, about the same time the protesters entered the Agriculture Department.
The Washington protest, organized by the Community for Creative Non-Violence, was intended to force the government to raise distribution of surplus dairy products to 50 million pounds a month, spokesman Justin Brown said.
A delegation of four protesters met with three Agriculture Department officials late in the afternoon and then departed after learning of Block's initiative.
Distribution of government-owned cheese, the major dairy product given away free, peaked at 40 million pounds a month at the beginning of this year. It has been reduced to 25 million to 35 million pounds per month because officials believed the cheese giveaway was cutting into commercial sales.
Since the free cheese program was begun in December 1981, about 400 million pounds of cheese have been given away. As the program expanded, the government also began to give away butter, non-fat dry milk, honey, corn meal, flour and rice.
The giveaway program is in addition to food stamps that go to 22 million Americans at a cost of $12 billion this fiscal year and 2.1 billion pounds of commodities distributed for school lunches and other programs.
'While these commodities have been distributed, the net amount that the government owns has been dramatically increasing,' Brown said.
Some of the food is rotting, he said, adding, 'If the taxpayers are paying for this food, it ought to be going to someone who needs it.'