by Matthew Reichbach, New Mexico Political Report
Feb. 22, 2018
Proposed, sweeping and dramatic changes to a decades-old federal food aid program could have major negative impacts on many impoverished New Mexicans who rely on the program.
Donald Trump’s administration proposed changes to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), previously known as food stamps, in his most recent budget recommendation. The proposal included providing food boxes to those who qualify for the program while slashing the amount of money the federal government spends by 30 percent over ten years. All of this would likely result in fewer people receiving fewer benefits through the program.
While the state splits the administrative costs of the program with the federal government, the federal government provides funding for the SNAP benefits New Mexicans receive.
Ed Bolen, a senior policy analyst with the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities who focuses on SNAP, said the driving force behind the proposal was to cut federal spending on the program. It’s similar in that way to Trump’s first budget proposal, which asked for direct cuts to the program, he told NM Political Report.
“When I look at the different provisions, I see proposals to force states to require people in high unemployment areas to find jobs, or cut them off after three months,” Bolen said. “That’s the provision that limits the waivers for childless adults who have a three month time limit with SNAP.”
New Mexico, which has the second-highest unemployment rate in the nation, has received a waiver for that problem.
Amber Wallin, the Deputy Director of New Mexico Voices for Children, pointed to the recent tax cut that became law as a driving force for the desire to cut federal spending from social welfare programs.
“We just had a $1.4 trillion tax cut that mainly goes to wealthy individuals, the most well-connected, the biggest corporations,” she said. “But at the same time we’re cutting crucial benefits for the kids and families who need them the most. It’s just unacceptable.”
She said the cuts would have a negative impact on families, children and businesses in the state.
“We have one of the highest percentages in the nation of children who receive SNAP. But even given our high SNAP participation rates and the high coverage rate in New Mexico, we still have the second-highest rate in the nation of childhood food insecurity.”
“This is in an environment where people are already going hungry. In a nation like ours where there’s so much wealth, it’s criminal that we have people going hungry,” James Jimenez, the executive director of New Mexico Voices for Children, said. “And we’re not willing to help people adequately feed themselves.”
The changes would also impose some challenges on New Mexico.
Sovereign Hager, a managing attorney with the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty, pointed out problems the state Human Services Department has had with administering SNAP benefits.
The Center on Law and Poverty is currently in a legal battle with the state regarding SNAP. A federal judge appointed a special master to oversee some federal benefits because HSD could not adequately do so on its own.
Implementing a system to require some to work to receive SNAP benefits, in particular, bedeviled the state when proposed by Gov. Susana Martinez’s administration.
“The governor has attempted to implement those requirements here, and the state could not do them lawfully,” Hager told NM Political Report. “It resulted in homeless people being kicked off, even though they’re supposed to be exempt, families with children that weren’t supposed to be subject to the requirement receiving notices that they were going to be limited to three months of SNAP if they weren’t employed.”
She noted the federal government has always allowed waivers for areas of high unemployment and said a lack of waivers would be “devastating” for many New Mexico families. Whether the state could administer the complex program would be a heavy test, one Hager says the state has failed in the past.
“They have to track people, track their employment, make sure they’re exempting folks appropriately and those are things the state has had great difficulty in doing,” Hager said of the state. “They have a lot of trouble with their IT system, making it work appropriately, making sure they have sufficient staff and training their staff. These are all things that have come up in the last two years in federal court.”
To Bolen, the end of waivers and other services only serve as a way to cut benefits.