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The health of many of the city's children and their ability to learn will suffer if council cuts the school nutritional program as part of $305-million in budget trims, child advocates said yesterday.

The program is on the chopping block, but councillors Olivia Chow and Pam McConnell say they will fight not only to preserve but to increase its present funding.

The two politicians made the comment as they presented a report card on children and an action plan to improve the lot of poor children.

The report card gives the state of health of poor children a D- grade, just up from last year's failing grade.

Ms. McConnell said eliminating the nutritional program would result in another F grade.

The two councillors want the city to allocate an additional $5-million in this year's budget to expand general services to the poor.

Taking care of children should be the city's core responsibility even if it means taking the money from hard services, such as roads, and postponing repairs, the two councillors said.

The report card's good news is that there are fewer children in Toronto on welfare than last year.

Otherwise, the news is all bad. The city has a 30 per cent higher infant mortality rate than the rest of the province, a 26 per cent higher rate of low-birth-weight babies; and an abnormally high rate of respiratory disease in poor areas.

The two councillors' action plan recommends that the city spend $172,000 to expand the nutrition program to eight schools, reaching another 2,000 pupils.