August 2, 1983
Memorandum for Edwin Meese III
Subject: Task Force on Food Assistance
I am deeply concerned about the extent to which we have a problem that should not exist in this great and wealthy country. That is the problem of hunger. America is literally the breadbasket of the world. We produce and export more food than any other nation. Our farms are the envy of the world.
Yet, I have seen reports in the press in past weeks of Americans going hungry. I am deeply concerned by these stories, because I know the suffering that each of these incidents represents.
At the same time, I admit to being perplexed by these accounts because, the fact is, federal law guarantees that every poor person with an income at or below 130% of the poverty level is eligible to receive free food stamps. Additional federal aid includes free school lunches, free school breakfasts; the Women, Infants and Childrens program, and numerous other federal programs. If the poor, who are eligible by law for this help, are not receiving it, then something is wrong.
In addition, our Administration has been distributing free surplus dairy products to the needy, including cheese and butter. Since we began this distribution program in December 1981, the federal government has given away nearly 700 million pounds of dairy products worth more than a billion dollars. If this assistance is not reaching those for whom it is intended, then again something is grievously wrong.
Unfortunately, we in government cannot respond effectively to this problem unless we know the nature of the difficultuies we seek to remedy. It may be that some people are not aware that federal aid is available to them. It may be that these programs are not administered well enough to serve all those who are eligible. Or some people may have just decided not to take advantage of the available aid programs. We simply do not know enough to say.
But I intend to find out. As you know, I am fully committed to feeding the poor people of this Nation. No child, senior citizen, deserted mother or invalid should have to go hungry in America -- not only because we are a land of plenty, but because federal law guarantees that our plenty is to be shared with those in true need.
To ensure that this promise is realized, I have decided to create a Task Force on Food Assistance to examine the extent of America's hunger problem, to determine its causes, and to recommend specific solutions. This Task Force should be composed of leading experts in poverty research, economics and government administration -- men and women from academia, the private sector, and with experience at all levels of government.
I want the Task Force to bring me a no-holds-barred study. If the food assistance programs are being mismanaged, I want to know that. If certain aspects of our food assistance programs require more funding, I want to know that, too.
Realizing the importance of this problem, I want the Task Force to complete its work and report to me within 90 days.
Please take whatever final steps are necessary so that I may form this Task Force as soon as possible.
If even one American child is forced to go to bed hungry at night, or if one senior citizen is denied the dignity of proper nutrition, that is a national tragedy. We are too generous a people to allow this to happen. I hope that the work of this Task Force will help solve the problem of hunger in America once and for all.