New Mexico Governor Readies Tougher Food Stamp Work Rules Amid High Unemployment And Hunger
by ALAN PYKE –
With an unemployment rate well above the national average and more than one in four of its children on the brink of hunger, New Mexico is poised to make it harder to get food stamps.
Like most other states, New Mexico has waived federal work requirements tied to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) since about 2009. The work rules are designed to lapse when the unemployment is severe, since requiring people to find work or starve makes little sense when there’s no work to be had.
But since last fall, Gov. Susanna Martinez (R) has sought to reinstate the rules limiting able-bodied people to three months of SNAP benefits unless they work or attend job training classes at least 20 hours per week. Martinez’s initial attempt was blocked by a judge who ruled the state had failed to give the required public notice about the decision. The state’s Human Services Department issued a revamped proposal Monday that would make New Mexico’s work rules the most expansive in the country.
The standard work requirement applies to people age 18 to 50 who are healthy enough to work and have no children or other dependents to care for. Martinez’s administration wants to expand the rules to include 16- and 17-year-olds and adults as old as 60.
Parents with children older than 6 would also have to meet the 20-hours-per-week job training or work requirement or be booted from SNAP, according to the Santa Fe New Mexican.
Over 21 percent of all New Mexicans are enrolled in food stamps, behind only Mississippi and the District of Columbia on the list of states that are most reliant on the program. The state had the fourth-highest rate of child food insecurity in the latest nationwide survey by the anti-hunger charity network Feeding America. Over 28 percent of the state’s kids live in households where they do not always get adequate nutrition throughout the year, compared to a national rate of about 21 percent.
Somewhere between 26,000 and 80,000 people who currently benefit from the suspension of work rules could potentially lose their food stamps if Martinez’s proposal goes into effect, according to the New Mexican.
Of course, if those people can get a job or 20 hours of weekly, qualified job training, they’ll continue to receive their food stamps. But the rules don’t wave a magic wand over the state’s economy or restore vitality to job training programs that have been cut dramatically over recent decades. And there’s reason to worry that Martinez is moving ahead before her state’s job market can support the change.
The unemployment rate in New Mexico has improved since 2009, to be sure. But it still stands at 6.2 percent, well above the 5.5 percent national rate. And in some parts of the state, the lack of economic opportunity is severe enough to qualify for a continued waiver of SNAP work rules under federal guidelines.
Four New Mexico counties were designated as “labor surplus areas” by the government for the 2015 fiscal year, meaning that there’s a severe disparity between how many people are looking for work and how many jobs there are to find. While just 8 percent of the state’s population of nearly 2.1 million live in those counties, that’s still over 170,000 people who will face the renewed work requirements despite facing very long odds of being able to find a job.
Martinez is following the example set by multiple other governors, including a pair of Democrats.Kansas, Maine, Ohio, Texas, Indiana, Wisconsin, Colorado, and Delaware have all dropped their waivers and reinstated the work requirements that are standard when the economy is healthy. Tens of thousands of people have lost access to the food stamps rolls thanks to those decisions.About a million Americans will lose their SNAP benefits over the coming 12 months as more states reinstate the rules despite having millions of people unemployed and hundreds of thousands more who are so discouraged by their job search experience that they’ve given up looking.