Farm Bill proposal would hurt southern New Mexico economy and leave families hungry

ALBUQUERQUE — The cuts to food assistance proposed in the 2018 House Farm Bill, which could be voted on as early as next week, would have a particularly harmful impact on southern New Mexico’s Congressional District 2. The district is in an agricultural and rural part of the state where almost one in four people participate in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps, to buy groceries and healthy food.

Rep. Steve Pearce has voiced his support for the proposed SNAP cuts in the Farm Bill, which would cut funding for SNAP by $20 Billion over the next ten years by cutting eligibility for families, penalizing people looking for work, and other changes.

“We need a Farm Bill that actually supports farmers and our shared work to eliminate hunger in the community,” said George Lujan, executive director of SouthWest Organizing Project (SWOP). “Southern New Mexico is one of the most prolific agricultural regions in the country where we grow many of our most popular traditional foods. There’s no reason for a high instance of hunger in an area where food has such deep cultural and historical roots. We need to make sure our policy decisions are in line with our shared belief that everyone has enough to eat in our community.”

SNAP has been vital in helping struggling southern New Mexicans afford a basic diet. At least 162,393 New Mexicans in Pearce’s district participate in SNAP. Most of these families include children and nearly a third include senior citizens. Over half of the SNAP participants in District 2 are in working families.

“Roadrunner Food Bank is deeply concerned about the House Agriculture Committee’s Farm Bill legislation. The bill’s severe cuts to the SNAP program will lengthen the lines at our pantries, soup kitchens, and other sites that serve hungry people,” said Mag Strittmatter, president and CEO of Roadrunner Food Bank. “Deep cuts to SNAP will negatively impact the people we serve and increase hunger in our community. We want to see a strong Farm Bill that protects the hungry as well as struggling farmers and rural communities, but this bill as drafted would only worsen hunger and make it harder for children, seniors, and families to access food assistance.”

If the Farm Bill passes, it would cut SNAP eligibility by reducing the net income limits from 165 percent to 130 percent of the Federal Poverty Level and removing any options for New Mexico to increase the eligibility level. It would also add bureaucratic requirements removed decades ago like requiring New Mexicans to provide their utility bill to their local Income Support Division office.

“Federal Nutrition programs like SNAP account for 80 percent of the Farm Bill, and this Congress is seeking to slash it by $20 Billion. The local impact would be devastating. In Dona Ana County alone, over 60,000 of our neighbors are recipients of SNAP benefits,” said Krysten Aguilar, director of operations and policy advocacy at La Semilla Food Center. “This bill targets our most vulnerable families and children and attacks their ability to eat.”

Aguilar continued, “SNAP benefits generate $1.70 of economic activity for every federal $1 spent, so not only is the program working to feed people, it is creating jobs and stimulating our local economy. This bill is cruel, senseless, and economically unsound.”

SNAP program cuts would decrease economic activity in southern New Mexico, where SNAP benefits boost food purchases spent at local grocers and farmer’s markets by hundreds of millions of dollars a year. On average, SNAP participants in New Mexico receive $121 a month in benefits. That amounts to $19 Million spent in local businesses across Southern New Mexico each month.

The Farm Bill does nothing to increase employment or wages, but proposes a one-size-fits-all work hour requirement for an expanded number of adults that would force states to develop large new bureaucracies. Unemployed or underemployed adults, including those with children over 6 years old, would be cut off of SNAP for up to three years if they cannot comply with the requirements.

New Mexico had a similar program from 2011 to 2016. Data from HSD showed that the majority of participants lost food benefits and there were no improvements in earnings or employment. In fact, the state’s administration of the program was so poor, a federal judge ordered the state to cease implementation.

“We know SNAP works in New Mexico. Cutting it would take food away from people struggling to make ends meet, and from children and working people,” said William Townley, an attorney at the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty. “It is completely backward to take food away from people who are struggling to find work or are unable to work. Instead, Congress should work together on legislation that provides meaningful job training and jobs with wages families can actually live on.”

New Mexico has consistently qualified for a statewide waiver of any federal penalties on unemployed adults because New Mexico has persistently high unemployment compared with the national average. Under the new bill, most of New Mexico would no longer qualify for a waiver.

The Farm Bill, a piece of legislation renewed every five years, includes the budget for food and agriculture programs, such as crop insurance and subsidies, rural development, SNAP, and other nutrition programs.

For more information on SNAP in New Mexico, go to: http://nmpovertylaw.org/proposed-budget-will-increase-hunger-and-inequality-in-nm-february-2018/

For information on SNAP participants in District 2 by county, go to: http://nmpovertylaw.org/snap-participants-and-total-pop-dist-2-table/