Most SNAP recipients would work for food – if they could find a job

by James Jimenez and Amber Wallin
August 26, 2014

The proposal by Governor Martinez’s Human Services Department (HSD) to reinstate work requirements on recipients of food benefits is ill-considered and reflects an upside-down set of values, particularly in the face of an ongoing weak economy that is not producing jobs.

The HSD plan to limit SNAP benefits unless the unemployed comply with job search and work requirements could cause families with children to lose benefits for up to a year. Childless adults who fail to complete 20 hours of work a week could lose SNAP for up to three years.

New Mexico has had and continues to be eligible for a federal waiver of SNAP time limits for jobless adults due to our high unemployment. That HSD wants to reject that waiver and federally funded food assistance for tens of thousands of jobless New Mexicans is absurd. What is the rationale for such proposal? It won’t save the state any money, as SNAP is a federally funded program. The whole point of SNAP is to help people feed their families in times of high unemployment. Denying food assistance to people when they are unemployed because they can’t find a job is like telling the passengers on the Titanic it’s their own fault there are not enough lifeboats. In what world do these public servants live?

In the real world, one in five New Mexico adults and one in three kids is already unsure where their next meal is coming from. That’s the worst rate of food insecurity in the nation. While some people in the administration don’t like to admit it, hunger is a serious problem in New Mexico with major consequences. Hungry kids have worse health outcomes, perform worse in school, and are less prepared to enter the workforce. Cutting SNAP benefits for struggling New Mexicans will mean families can’t put enough food on the table, and New Mexico kids should not be made to go hungry because their parents aren’t able to find jobs.

This proposal comes on the heels of a 2013 corporate income tax cut that will cost state services more than $70 million by 2017. What sort of accountability did we insist upon for this windfall? Absolutely nothing! Has this tax break changed the economic landscape for New Mexico? The employment data certainly has yet to indicate that is has. In fact, the latest jobs numbers show that work is getting harder and harder to find in New Mexico. Unemployment is up across the state, we’ve seen no real job growth, and still haven’t fully recovered from the recession. There could not a worse time to punish those who already cannot find a job by putting a work requirement on SNAP.

So just to review: we’re the worst-performing state in the region for jobs, the worst hunger, and are at the bottom of the list on poverty and child well-being, yet we are willing to give away $70 million in state dollars to big business with no accountability while also cutting off federally funded basic food assistance from people struggling to find work. What does this say about our values as reflected by our public policies? It says to us that our values are up-side down!

James Jimenez, Director of Research, Policy and Advocacy Integration can be reached at jjimenez@nmvoices.org

Amber Wallin is a Research and Policy Analyst with NM Voices for Children. Reach her at awallin@nmvoices.org.