The state’s Human Services Department held a hearing in Santa Fe this morning about changes that would add work requirements to the food stamps program.
Faith leaders from around the state—along with AARP, family advocates and representatives from food banks—spoke against new requirements for SNAP, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. They emphasized that hungry people in New Mexico are already looking for work: There just aren’t jobs to be had.
Ruth Hoffman from the New Mexico Conference of Churches told the panel that people of faith are concerned about their neighbors living in poverty and hunger. "This approach is based on the assumption that people and families that seek assistance are trying to avoid responsibility. They are not," she said. "They are trying to survive in a very difficult economic environment."
Patty Keane, a registered dietician, said food insecurity creates health risks for people with diabetes and hypertension. "There are higher rates of hospitalization for low blood sugar—which is a complication—later on in the month, when food stamps benefits have run out."
Tribes have not been consulted about changes to SNAP, testified Johnny Abeyta Sr. of the Ohkay Owingeh Tribal Council.
Childless adults would have to work 20 hours a week or more to be eligible for SNAP. Everyone else would have to look for a job. There would be exemptions for pregnant women, families with kids under 6-years-old, students enrolled half-time, folks with disabilities and more.
Matt Kennicott, spokesperson for HSD, said the rule change would affect around 80,000 New Mexicans—a little more than 20 percent of the people using SNAP today. But he added that it wouldn’t require any additional funding from the state to keep track of these new rules, because many of the requirements are part of other assistance programs.
He said the rule changes were about giving people a hand up. "We’ve heard today a lot of folks mention that they want to get back to work, they can’t find a job, but we want to help them do that," he said. "We hope to be able to make people more self-sufficient."
In May, a judge ordered HSD to speed up processing time for applicants to the food stamps program. Kennicott says they’re turning around applications in about 10 days right now, and the new rules wouldn’t slow that process.