SANTA FE, N.M. – New regulations for the new year now require many of New Mexico’s food stamp recipients to find work in order to keep their benefits. Reinstating New Mexico’s work rules for getting food assistance means as many as 60,000 people must find a job in the state with the nation’s highest unemployment rate.
Sovereign Hagar, an attorney for the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty, says the state’s new requirement to qualify for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) don’t make much sense.
“We are just as surprised as anyone else that the governor would be pushing to limit food assistance when we have these kinds of problems in our state,” says Hagar. “Especially considering it’s a federal benefit, it’s not a state-funded benefit.”
Now, in order to get food aid, most adults ages 18 to 49 will have to prove they work or receive job training at least 80 hours a month. Without employment, the state says people can only collect SNAP benefits for three months every three years.
The program does exempt about one-third of New Mexico counties and some tribal areas with the highest unemployment rates. However, Hagar says the changes appear to hurt the very people who need the program the most.
“For the adults that are unemployed, we know that they are very, very vulnerable,” she says. “The work environment is not very strong, there aren’t many jobs and people are struggling. Why implement a program that has no measurable results for those families?”
Five years ago, the state’s poor economy prompted state officials to suspend the work rules connected with the SNAP program. Gov. Susanna Martinez brought them back this year, saying recipients need to do their share to earn their benefits.