To the Congress of the United States:
We have long thought of America as the most bounteous of nations. In our conquest of the most elemental of human needs, we have set a standard that is a wonder and aspiration for the rest of the world. Our agricultural system produces more food than we can consume, and our private food market is the most effective food distribution system ever developed. So accustomed are most of us to a full and balanced diet that, until recently, we have thought of hunger and malnutrition as problems only in far less fortunate countries.
But in the past few years we have awakened to the distressing fact that despite our material abundance and agricultural wealth, many Americans suffer from malnutrition. Precise factual descriptions of its extent are not presently available, but there can be no doubt that hunger and malnutrition exist in America, and that some millions may be affected.
That hunger and malnutrition should persist in a land such as ours is embarrassing and intolerable. But it is an exceedingly complex problem, not at all susceptible to fast or easy solutions. Millions of Americans are simply too poor to feed their families properly. For them, there must be first sufficient food income. But this alone would only begin to address the problem, for what matters finally is what people buy with the money they have. People must be educated in the choosing of proper foods. All of us, poor and non-poor alike, must be reminded that a proper diet is a basic determinant of good health. Our private food industry has made great advances in food processing and packaging, and has served the great majority of us very well. But these advances have placed great burdens on those who are less well off and less sophisticated in the ways of the modern marketplace. We must therefore work to make the private food market serve these citizens as well, by making nutritious foods widely available in popular forms. And for those caught in the most abject poverty, special efforts must be made to see that the benefits of proper foods are not lost amidst poor health and sanitary conditions.
The Council for Urban Affairs has for the past three months been studying the problem of malnutrition in America, and has assessed the capacities of our present food and nutrition programs. As a result of the Council's deliberations, I am today prepared to take the following actions:
I. FAMILY FOOD ASSISTANCE PROGRAMS
The Federal government presently provides food assistance to nearly seven million needy Americans through the Food Stamp and Direct Distribution programs.
Though these programs have provided welcome and needed assistance to these persons, both are clearly in need of revision.
The present Food Stamp program also can be greatly improved. I shall in a short period of time submit to the Congress legislation which will revise the Food Stamp program to:
--provide poor families enough food stamps to purchase a nutritionally complete diet. The Department of Agriculture estimates this to be $100 per month for a typical family of four.
--provide food stamps at no cost to those in the very lowest income brackets.
--provide food stamps to others at a cost of no greater than 30% of income.
--ensure that the Food Stamp program is complementary to a revised welfare program, which I shall propose to the Congress this year.
--give the Secretary of Agriculture the authority to operate both the Food Stamp and Direct Distribution programs concurrently in individual counties, at the request and expense of local officials. This will permit the Secretary to assist counties wishing to change from Direct Distribution to Food Stamps, and to meet extraordinary or emergency situations.
It will not be possible for the revised program to go into effect until sometime after the beginning of the calendar year 1970, that is to say after the necessary legislative approval and administrative arrangements have been made. The requested appropriations will then permit the establishment of the revised program in all current Food Stamp counties before the end of the fiscal year, as well as a modest expansion into Direct Distribution counties, and some counties with no current programs.
This program, on a full year basis, will cost something in excess of $1 billion per year. (Precise estimates will only become available over time. ) This will be in addition to the $1.5 billion for food for the hungry which I have requested for the forthcoming fiscal year, making a total program of $2.5 billion. In the meantime, $270 million is being reprogrammed within the forthcoming budget to permit the program to begin as soon as legislative and administrative arrangements can be made and other necessary measures taken.
While our long-range goal should be to replace direct food distribution with the revised Food Stamp program, the Direct Distribution program can fill many short-range needs. Today there are still over 440 counties without any Family Food Assistance program, and this Administration shall establish programs in each of these counties before July 1970. The Direct Distribution program will be used in most of these counties. In these and other Direct Distribution counties, the most serious criticism of the program will be met by ensuring that all counties offer the full range of available foods.
To strengthen both current Family Food Assistance programs, efforts will proceed on a high priority basis to establish more distribution points, prompter and simpler certification, financing arrangements, mailing of food stamps, and appeal mechanisms.
2. SPECIAL SUPPLEMENTAL FOOD PROGRAM
Serious malnutrition during pregnancy and infancy can impair normal physical and mental development in children. Special effort must be made to protect this vulnerable group from malnutrition.
The Special Package program, which provides needy women and mothers with packages of especially nutritious foods, was designed to meet this need. But the program has encountered logistical problems which have severely limited its success. I am therefore directing that a substantial portion of the Fiscal Year 1970 budget for this program be used to establish pilot programs that make use of the private food market. Under these pro, grams, needy pregnant women and mothers of infants will be issued vouchers, redeemable at food and drug stores for infant formulas and other highly nutritious special foods. If such a program seems workable, and the administrative problems are resolved, the program will be expanded later on the basis of that experience.
3. ADMINISTRATION OF FOOD PROGRAMS
I am directing the Urban Affairs Council to consider the establishment of a new agency, the Food and Nutrition Service, whose exclusive concern will be the administration of the Federal Food programs. Presently the food programs are operated in conjunction with numerous other unrelated programs. The creation of a new agency will permit greater specialization and concentration on the effective administration of the food programs.
4. PRIVATE SECTOR INVOLVEMENT
I shall shortly announce a White House Conference on Food and Nutrition, involving executives from the nation's leading food processing and food distribution companies and trade unions. I shall ask these men to advise me on how the private food market might be used to improve the nutritional status of all Americans, and how the government food programs could be improved. I shall also call on these men to work with the advertising industry and the Advertising Council, to develop an educational advertising and packaging campaign to publicize the importance of good food habits.
5. INTER-AGENCY EFFORTS
Although most of the current food and nutrition programs are administered by the Department of Agriculture, other agencies are critically involved. I am therefore establishing a sub-Cabinet working committee of the Urban Affairs Council to promote coordination between the food and nutrition programs and other health, educational, and anti-poverty programs.
At the present time, I am directing the Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare and the Director of the Office of Economic Opportunity to take a number of immediate steps.
I am asking the Secretary of HEW to:
--work with state agencies to ensure that the Medicaid program is fully coordinated with the Special Package and pilot voucher programs for pregnant women and infants, so that vitamin and mineral products can be made available to those diagnosed as suffering from nutrient deficiencies.
--expand the National Nutrition Survey, presently being conducted by the Public Health Service, to provide us with our first detailed description of the extent of hunger and malnutrition in our country.
--initiate detailed research into the relationship between malnutrition and mental retardation.
--encourage emphasis by medical schools on training for diagnosis and treatment of malnutrition and malnutrition-related diseases. The Office of Economic Opportunity, with its exclusive commitment to the problems of poverty and its unique "outreach" among the poor themselves, has an especial role to play. I am asking the Director of OEO to:
--work with the Secretaries of Agriculture and HEW to establish a greatly expanded role for the Community Action Agencies in delivering food stamps and commodity packages. Volunteers working in the VISTA program will also aid in the delivery and outreach process, supplementing the efforts of the Agricultural Extension Service.
--redirect OEO funds into the Emergency Food and Health Service program to increase its food, health, and sanitation services for our most depressed areas. Presently, health and sanitary conditions in many of our most depressed counties are so poor that improved food services alone would have little impact on the nutritional health of the population. The Emergency Food and Health Service has provided invaluable services in aiding these areas, and its good work should be substantially expanded. More is at stake here than the health and well-being of 16 million American citizens who will be aided by these programs and the current Child Food Assistance programs. Something very like the honor of American democracy is at issue. It was half a century ago that the "fruitful plains" of this bounteous land were first called on to a great work of humanity, that of feeding a Europe exhausted and bleeding from the First World War. Since then on one occasion after another, in a succession of acts of true generosity--let those who doubt that find their counterpart in history--America has come to the aid of one starving people after another. But the moment is at hand to put an end to hunger in America itself. For all time. I ask this of a Congress that has already splendidly demonstrated its own disposition to act. It is a moment to act with vigor; it is a moment to be recalled with pride.
The White House
May 6, 1969