by SouthWest Organizing Project, KRWG FM
July 7, 2015

Albuquerque, NM – Community groups are organizing a Town Hall on July 8th, 2015, as a forum to voice opposition to Governor Martinez’s plans to limit food assistance to parents, teenagers, and adults over 50 who cannot find employment. On May 29th, the State released a proposed regulation requiring work activities as a condition for many New Mexicans to receive food through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). SNAP, formerly known as food stamps, uses federal funds to provide food assistance to families who qualify. SNAP is the single most effective program available to fight hunger in New Mexico, while the proposed regulations would be the most burdensome allowed by law.

The “Fight Hunger, Not the Hungry” Town Hall on July 8th will be held at the South Broadway Cultural Center from 6-8 PM and will allow the public an opportunity to make comments on the proposed SNAP rules, which will then be submitted to the Human Services Department. This will be an opportunity for community members who can not attend the HSD’s hearing on July 17th to have their voices heard. The town hall will include a discussion with our panel of experts, analyzing hunger in New Mexico through the lenses of nutrition, community, law, and politics.

The proposed regulation implements requirements that are mandatory under federal law and adds additional requirements for populations that most states exempt from work requirements. Federal law already requires work activities as a prerequisite to receiving food assistance, in certain areas of the state, for able-bodied adults between the ages of 18-50 who do not have children. However, New Mexico intends to impose work activities on parents with children over the age of six, teenagers ages 16 to 18 that are not in school, and adults between ages 50 to 60 who participate in SNAP. The state estimates that over 62,000 adults would be subject to these requirements. Most other states exempt these groups of people because they are often more vulnerable to hunger and malnutrition. Moreover, 28 states and territories have completely voluntary work participation programs for all SNAP participants.

Advocates in the state are concerned that the unnecessary requirements will lead to increased hunger in New Mexico. Our state already has some of the highest rates of food insecurity and unemployment in the country. We don’t need government policies that make it worse.

Patty Keane, registered dietitian at the UNM Prevention Research Center and president-elect of the New Mexico Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, states that, “My concern from a nutrition standpoint is that these proposed changes to the SNAP program will push people off of SNAP, including children, which will lead to increased hunger and food insecurity and its negative consequences. Rather than setting children and families up for success, this proposal may be setting them, and ultimately all of us, up for failure.”

“New Mexico is still struggling to recover from the recession, and too many are struggling to feed their families,” said Veronica C. Garcia, Ed.D, executive director of New Mexico Voices for Children. “Until the state starts creating jobs that pay a living wage, punishing people for not finding work is only going to make a bad situation worse.”

“We want the Governor to know that these so-called work requirements are not a job program, and they do nothing to alleviate hunger in our state. New Mexico is being ravaged by hunger and a dismal economy, and we need the state’s leadership to stop attacking our most vulnerable families- the very same families that we need to help us build our economy back up,” emphasized Rodrigo Rodriguez, Food Justice Organizer, with SWOP.

Not only are the new requirements inappropriate for New Mexico, but the state’s history of implementation of such requirements does not bode well for New Mexicans in need of food assistance. Currently, New Mexico requires non-disabled adults between the ages of 18 and 50 to document job searches and complete training. Last year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture audited the state’s implementation of these requirements and found numerous systemic problems, such as failing to provide clients with information about the SNAP work requirements or how to comply with them, failure to accurately track compliance, and illegal billing of federal funds. Data from the New Mexico Human Services Department shows that over 8,000 New Mexicans lost SNAP because of work requirements in 2014. 1,200 people lost SNAP in the January and February of 2015 alone.

Louise Pocock, a staff attorney at the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty, is concerned that the Department has not done enough to address these problems and reform its procedures so they comply with law. “The New Mexico Human Services Department has chosen to implement the most expansive and administratively complex work requirements possible under federal law. HSD is unnecessarily expanding a program that isn’t working for New Mexicans. The Department has no data to show that these requirements increase employment or reduce food insecurity. Instead, data shows the opposite: food insecurity increased because New Mexico terminated SNAP for most of the adults subject to the requirements. If New Mexico expands these requirements to parents, tens of thousands of children are likely to see reduced food assistance in New Mexico.”

Governor Martinez tried to implement these same requirements in 2014 and was met with widespread opposition. The New Mexico Conference of Catholic Bishops and the all Pueblo Council of Governors issued statements calling on Governor Martinez to protect SNAP for unemployed New Mexicans and their families. The Department held a public hearing on the proposed work rules on August 29, 2014 and over 100 people spoke out against creating new work requirements for SNAP participants. The Department ultimately withdrew the 2014 proposed work rules after a State Court Judge stopped their implementation because the Department failed to make certain parts for the rules available for public comment before making them final.

According to documents released by the Human Services Department, it will cost the state between $150 and $250 per participant to administer these requirements. These cost estimates do not include transportation and childcare reimbursements that federal law requires the state provide to all SNAP participants who must complete SNAP work requirements. The federal government will provide only just over $1 million total funding to administer these requirements, so New Mexico taxpayers will be responsible for the lion’s share of the cost of administering work requirements.

SWOP and other community organizations are hosting a SNAP Town Hall meeting on July 8, 2015. The Town Hall will provide New Mexicans with an opportunity to provide video, oral, and written testimony to Governor Martinez and the Human Services Department about the need to protect access to SNAP benefits for New Mexico’s families and children. The time and location of the Town Hall are still being determined and will be announced soon.

The New Mexico Legislature’s Interim Health and Human Services Committee will also hear testimony on the proposed SNAP work requirements from the Human Services Department Secretary Brent Earnest and the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty on July 16, 2015. The location and time of the hearing will be provided on the State Legislature’s website when available.

The final opportunity for public input will be on July 17, 2015 at the Human Services Department public hearing on the proposed rules from 1:30 pm to 4:30 pm at the Department of Health Harold Runnels Auditorium, 1190 St. Francis Dr., Santa Fe, NM. For more information on how to submit public comments if you cannot attend the public hearing, please contact the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty.