Over 27,000 New Mexicans could lose food assistance due to Trump administration rule

ALBUQUERQUE—Federal food assistance was created to increase nutrition levels and eliminate hunger. However, the Trump administration published a final rule yesterday that threatens food assistance for more than 27,255 New Mexicans and 755,000 low-income adults nationwide. The rule will go into effect on April 1, 2020.

Federal law already required that states limit Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) eligibility to just three months out of every three years for unemployed and underemployed adults without dependent children unless they can document 20 hours of work a week. The Trump administration rule makes the requirement even harsher by preventing many states from waiving these draconian time limits in areas with high unemployment.

“There is absolutely no excuse for anyone in the richest country in the world to ever go hungry,” said Sovereign Hager, legal director at the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty. “There has always been bipartisan support for protecting food assistance. The Trump administration chose to sidestep Congress, which rejected these cuts in the 2018 Farm Bill, and push cuts through by regulation.

“We’re proud to be from a state that opposed the rule,” said Teague González, supervising attorney at the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty. “Now, more than ever, it’s important New Mexico quickly institute a strong plan for more employment and training programs to mitigate the harmful impact of this rule. If it does not, thousands of people will be locked out of food assistance for up to three years.”

New Mexico has some of the highest rates of food insecurity in the United States and implemented a statewide waiver of the time limits for decades because the state’s unemployment levels have been more than 20 percent above the national average. But counties like Catron, Cibola, McKinley, Mora, Sierra, Taos, and Torrance—with unemployment rates over seven percent—will no longer qualify for a waiver. The same would be true for most Native American communities in the state.

There is no evidence that proposals to take food assistance away from people who do not meet new, expanded work requirements increases employment or earnings. However, data from states that implemented time limits show that the vast majority of adults simply lost SNAP benefits without finding employment. 

The people who receive food assistance in New Mexico who can work, do work; 46 percent are in working families. Others have disabilities, are elderly, or simply cannot find work. The adults affected are some of the lowest income of all SNAP participants. USDA data shows that those likely to be cut off by the time limit have an average monthly income of about 17 percent of the poverty line.

“The people impacted by this rule have been systematically disenfranchised by our economic system and face real barriers to maintaining and documenting full time employment,” said González. “Taking away basic food assistance only makes people hungry and does not help anyone find a job. The government should instead be implementing what we know helps people find work, and that’s individualized job training, a fair minimum wage, affordable childcare and housing.” 

SNAP cuts will hurt grocers and New Mexico’s economy. SNAP benefits are spent at more than 1,588 authorized retailers in New Mexico, including grocers and local food retailers around the state. About $693 million of SNAP benefits were redeemed in New Mexico in 2016. The average New Mexico SNAP benefit in FY 2017 was $121. When multiplied by the 27,244 people who could lose benefits under the proposed rule, up to $3,296,524 federal dollars could leave the state.

SNAP cuts will also mean an increase in public healthcare costs for New Mexico. A study published by the American Medical Association found that on average SNAP participation lowers an individual’s health care expenditures by approximately $1,447 per year.

ACTION ALERT: Tell the Trump administration not to cut SNAP

We have a shared commitment in our country that no one should ever go hungry, but a new rule proposed by the Trump administration would cause approximately 12,261 New Mexicans to lose food assistance. The rule is so draconian, it  would drop thousands of children from  free and reduced school lunch across the state. 

We need your help to let the Trump administration know that you oppose this attack on New Mexico’s families! Submit your public comment by Monday, September 23.

The rule cuts food assistance by eliminating state ability to increase the gross income test for SNAP. Currently, states have the flexibility to set this test between 130% and 200% of the federal poverty level. New Mexico currently sets the gross income limit at 165% of the federal poverty level. 

In New Mexico over 6,639 single parents, including 2,961 single parents in school and 5,607 children are among those who would lose food benefits. Children who receive SNAP food assistance are categorically eligible for free and reduced lunch and are automatically enrolled. Children cut off of SNAP would lose this enrollment option.. 

Cuts to federal food assistance also hurt our local economy. Over $30 million in economic activity will be lost if New Mexicans lose federal food benefits under this rule. 

The proposal would also end streamlined enrollment options that reduce paperwork for families who are already receiving services funded by New Mexico’s Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Program. Under the proposal, these families would no longer be exempt from the burdensome requirement to document assets.. 

New Mexicans have fought back against similar policies proposed by the Martinez administration, and made it clear that we should fight hunger not hungry people. 

Deadline to submit your public comments: September 23, 2019. 

Submit your comments here: https://www.regulations.gov/document?D=FNS-2018-0037-0001 

What to include in your comment: 

Use the outline below to draft a comment that reflects your opposition to the rule. It does not have to be long or detailed. However, please write some original text to maximize the impact. 

1. Say you oppose the proposal: 

  • I strongly oppose the proposed rule that will take food assistance away from families. 

2. Explain the impact of the proposal on your community: 

  • If the Trump Administration implements the rule, approximately 12,261 New Mexicans will lose food assistance that includes 5,607 children. 
  • One in five New Mexicans participate in the SNAP program. 
  • New Mexico has the highest rate of food insecurity in the nation. According to 2019 USDA Economic Research Service data, 16.8% of New Mexico’s households are food insecure. 
  • The rule jeopardizes access to free and reduced lunch, because kids who are eligible for SNAP are also eligible for automatic enrollment free and reduced school lunch. 
  • The rule will cause a loss of approximately $30 million in economic activity, and SNAP dollars are spent in the local economy. 

3. Explain why the policy is wrong: 

  • The proposal runs contrary to the purpose of SNAP, which is to “safeguard the health and well-being of the Nation’s population by raising levels of nutrition among low-income households.” 
  • Losing SNAP can mean an increase in healthcare costs. A study published by the American Medical Association found that on average SNAP participation lowers an individual’s health care expenditures by approximately $1,447.00 per year. 
  • Families who work for low wages, or who cannot find enough work hours, will be expected to go hungry.

Court finds management problems prevent HSD from fixing food and medical benefits applications

ALBUQUERQUE—A federal court found that lack of leadership and accountability in the New Mexico Human Services Department prevents it from fixing entrenched problems in food and medical benefit administration.

In a ruling issued late yesterday, U.S. District Court Judge Kenneth Gonzales set a series of deadlines for HSD compliance with court ordered reforms and required the appointment of knowledgeable subject matter experts in supplemental nutrition assistance program (SNAP), Medicaid, and eligibility for families that include immigrants in the department’s Income Support Division.

“We’re very hopeful that this ruling will lead to much needed changes in the department’s leadership,” said Sovereign Hager, managing attorney at the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty. “For there to be permanent improvement in administration, the Human Services Department leadership must have expertise and management abilities that give front line workers the tools they need to ensure New Mexicans can get food and medical assistance. HSD is still not processing applications in time, leaving too many children and families unable to access basic necessities.”

In September 2016, Judge Gonzales held the HSD Secretary Brent Earnest in contempt for failing to remove barriers to assistance for eligible families. The court appointed a Special Master to monitor and make recommendations to the department.

Despite court orders and the expertise provided by the Special Master, HSD continues to improperly deny eligible New Mexicans food and medical assistance and does not provide timely information about case decisions. Each month the department develops a backlog of unprocessed cases, a large share of phone calls go unanswered, and workers are not accurately trained on the requirements for processing food and medical assistance applications.

In his ruling yesterday, the judge agreed with the Special Master’s January 2018 report finding that the current HSD management team lacks the sufficient “knowledge, skills, and abilities” necessary to ensure families receive information about their cases and get the assistance they need to eat and see the doctor.

The judge also found that the Income Support Division Director demonstrated “woefully” little knowledge of the court ordered changes to improve processing food and Medicaid applications despite the significant impact they had on the division’s mission and work.

The judge was also troubled by the ISD Director’s lack of knowledge of standard memoranda issued by her division, training procedures, and her admitted failure to speak with the Regional Operations Managers on how to address improving timeliness and efficiency.

“We hope the state will make the management changes that will end the need for such extensive oversight through the courts,” said Hager. “New Mexicans who are going through significant hardships shouldn’t have to fight with the state to get the food and medical care they need.”

Center attorneys working on the Deborah Hatten Gonzales v. Brent Earnest lawsuit include Sovereign Hager, Gail Evans, and Maria Griego. Civil rights attorney, Daniel Yohalem is lead counsel on the case.

The court’s ruling can be found here: http://nmpovertylaw.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/Doc.-836-Memorandum-Opinion-and-Order-2018-04-05-00000003.pdf

Federal Court to hear Special Master’s findings on illegal barriers to food and medical assistance on Thursday

ALBUQUERQUE, NM — On Thursday, in U.S. District Court in Albuquerque, Judge Kenneth Gonzales will hold a hearing on the court-appointed Special Master’s report regarding the New Mexico Human Services Department’s failure to comply with multiple court orders to timely and accurately provide food and medical assistance to eligible families. The court ordered 20 high-level employees to be present at the hearing.

In September 2016, Judge Gonzales held the HSD Secretary Brent Earnest in contempt for failing to remove barriers to assistance for eligible families and appointed a Special Master to monitor and make recommendations to the department. The Special Master issued a report in January 2018 finding that “the current HSD/ISD management team lacks sufficient knowledge, skills, and abilities to appropriately manage the program or bring it into full compliance with the Consent Decree.” The Special Master recommended that HSD take immediate action, including removing five high-level employees from the division that administers food and medical assistance, appoint qualified experts, and improve worker training.

Despite court orders and the expertise provided by the Special Master, HSD continues to improperly deny eligible New Mexicans food and medical assistance. Each month the department develops a backlog of unprocessed cases, a large share of phone calls are not answered, and workers are not accurately trained on the requirements for processing food and medical assistance applications.

WHAT:  
Court hearing on the Special Master’s Report (Doc. 810) on HSD compliance with court orders in Deborah Hatten Gonzales v. Brent Earnest (No. 88-385 KG/CG) and the objections to the Special Master’s Report (Docs. 812 & 813)

WHEN:
Thursday, March 1, 2018 at 9:00 a.m.

WHERE:
Pete V. Domenici United States Courthouse
440 Hondo Courtroom
333 Lomas Boulevard, N.W.
Albuquerque, NM 87102

WHO:
New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty attorneys
Special Master Lawrence M. Parker and Compliance Specialist Ramona McKissic
HSD Secretary Brent Earnest
HSD Deputy Secretary and General Counsel Christopher Collins
Income Support Division Director Mary Brogdon
19 other HSD staff members were also ordered to attend, including county directors, regional operations managers, a former deputy secretary, and assistant general counsel

URGENT! Tell Steve Pearce to Protect Federal Food Assistance!

This Thursday Congress is expected to vote on the FY 2018 House Budget Resolution, which contains harsh cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps and other poverty reduction programs. SNAP has been instrumental in helping struggling families put food on the table. But the plan envisions a total SNAP cut of $150 billion (more than 20 percent) over ten years.

If implemented, the resolution would pull the rug out beneath 464,102 New Mexicans who participate in the program, including 199,286 children, the elderly, and people with disabilities, while the wealthiest Americans and profitable corporations would get huge tax cuts.

As New Mexico’s Most Important Anti-Hunger Program, SNAP:

  • Improves the Health of Young Children – Nearly half (46%) of New Mexican children under age four rely on SNAP benefits to eat.  SNAP is proven to increase health and learning outcomes in young children by supporting brain development through adequate nutrition.
  • Supports Working Families – SNAP supports working New Mexicans.  Half of New Mexico SNAP participants are in working families. SNAP is also a critical support as New Mexico continues to have an unemployment rate that is significantly higher than the national average.
  • Boosts New Mexico’s Economy – SNAP benefits pumped $693 million dollars in the New Mexico economy. Every dollar of federal SNAP benefits spent in New Mexico generates $1.70 in economic activity.

Please call Representative Steve Pearce TODAY and urge him to oppose the house budget reconciliation.

Representatives Michelle Lujan Grisham and Ben Lujan are working hard to protect funding for SNAP. However, we need to make sure Representative Steve Pearce takes action to protect this critical program.

Call Representative Steve Pearce at his Washington D.C. office: (202) 225-2365.