The poor are getting it in the neck again. Or rather in the stomach. The Bush administration places a higher priority on protecting foreign markets for grain -- and, not incidentally, farm prices at home -- than it does on maintaining adequate nutrition for poor people here. One reason: Farmers usually vote. Poor people usually don't.
For years, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has cleared surplus foods such as flour, rice, cheese and butter from its warehouses by distributing it through state agencies to the poor. Canned vegetables and other basic foods were purchased and distributed the same way. But the warehouse shelves are now bare, and $120 million appropriated for purchased food this fiscal year has been spent. So an important source of nutritious food for 2.5 million families has dried up in some parts of the country, though fortunately not Maryland.
If the USDA had run out of surplus food through natural causes, that would be one thing. But the drained warehouses are the direct consequence of Washington's priorities. More than $1 billion worth of grain that might otherwise have been converted into flour for the needy in this country has been sold abroad, thanks to a government subsidy, in order to maintain the U.S. farmer's foothold in foreign markets.