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Loans, food-aid programs in Carter agriculture budget could face cuts

Republicans are already sharpening the cutting shears to go after a Democrat-built 1982 budget for the Department of Agriculture that almost doubles loans given to low-income farmers and gives a lion's share of funds to food-stamp and nutrition-aid programs.

"We're going to be looking at a very austere budget in agriculture," promised Agriculture Secretary-designate John R. Block during his confirmation hearing.

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Although the program level proposed in the lame-duck Carter budget is $52.5 billion, about the same as for 1981, that amount does not include expected salary raises that will bring the total much higher.

One of the programs targeted for the biggest boost in the Carter budget is the Farmers Home Administration (FHA), the very operation that Mr. Block wants to freeze.

The budget provides $3 billion for low- interest FHA loans to farmers, most of them in the low-to-moderate income bracket. A recent Agriculture Department study cited the need to help small farmers keep large farm operators from gaining a monopoly.

However, Secretary-designate Block has been decidedly cool toward the FHA. "I can't say if we're looking at a cutback," he told his Senate hearing. But he said that he would not back a major expansion either, and he called for an immediate review of FHA.

Block has also made it clear that he expects food stamp and other food assistance programs to undergo "careful scrutiny." Under the Carter plan, these programs will go up by $1.4 billion to $17.7 billion in 1982, making them the biggest item in the Agriculture budget. Most of the increase is due to soaring food prices, not increasing numbers of recipients, according to the Agriculture Department.

Some 22 million Americans now receive food stamps. The number would drop to 21.5 million next year under the Carter budget.

The new Republican administration also can be expected to probe into the research and development items in the new Agriculture budget. Carter administration officials have pushed for consumer-oriented research to ensure food safety. Block, with considerable support from farmers, wants to play down that role and pour more money into research for better crop production.

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