by Rick Nathanson, Albuquerque Journal
October 16, 2016

New Mexico has the nation’s largest percentage of young children receiving food stamps, with nearly half of children age 4 and under participating in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, according to a report issued this week.

The program, also known as food stamps, is the largest provider of nutrition assistance to children in poor families nationwide.

In New Mexico, 196,300 children receive SNAP benefits, according to a report released this week from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

Forty-six percent of children age 4 and under receive the benefits, according to the report, compiled from U.S. Department of Agriculture data for 2014, the most recent year for which the information is available.

“Getting a healthy, adequate diet is especially important for our youngest children, because nutrition plays a huge role in brain development,” said James Jimenez, executive director of New Mexico Voices for Children, which receives some funding from and is a national network partner with the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

“Many of the skills that are critical for success in school and in adulthood are developed in the first five years of life. So we need to ensure that these infants and toddlers do not go hungry because of staffing shortages or problems with processing applications and renewals.”

Overall, 39 percent of New Mexico children age 17 and younger receive SNAP benefits — only Mississippi and the District of Columbia have higher rates. That percentage has not fluctuated widely in New Mexico since at least 2011. Nationwide, 27 percent of children age 17 and younger receive these benefits.

The New Mexico Human Services Department, which administers SNAP, is chronically understaffed, Jimenez said, resulting in a U.S. District Court consent decree to improve its efficiency in providing SNAP and Medicaid benefits to those who are eligible.

Sovereign Hager, an attorney with the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty, called SNAP “our most efficient and effective tool to combat hunger.”

Nationwide, more than 80 percent of SNAP households with children have gross incomes below the 2016 federal poverty level of $20,100 a year for a family of three. Nearly half of SNAP households with children have incomes below half of the poverty line, and about one in seven have no other income while participating, the report says.

It adds that, in 2016, SNAP will help about 20 million children each month, or about one in four U.S. children, while providing about $30 billion in nutrition benefits for children over the course of the year.

Copyright 2016, Albuquerque Journal