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.