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NM human services secretary under fire for ‘no hunger’ claim

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SQUIER: Runs food stamp program in N.M.

SQUIER: Runs food stamp program in N.M.

The state Human Services Department secretary is walking back her recent claim that hunger is no big deal in New Mexico.

Human Services Secretary Sidonie Squier, a member of the New Mexico Hunger Task Force and director of the state agency that manages food assistance programs, wrote last week in an email to state administrators reviewing a draft report of the Hunger Task Force that hunger isn’t an issue for the state.

“Since there has never been and is not now any significant evidence of hunger in N.M., I would offer that the focus of the report should be on getting proper nutrition to children (and adults),” Squier said. (Parentheses hers.)

Squier went on to warn that the task force shouldn’t recommend that the state “just expand every government food program in existence.”

Groups that study the prevalence of hunger in New Mexico, however, would disagree with Squier’s take. The nonprofit group Feeding America has ranked New Mexico second-to-worst in the nation for both child hunger and general food insecurity. The group is the national affiliate for New Mexico’s Roadrunner Food Bank, which in 2012 distributed more than 23 million pounds of food to New Mexicans in need.

New Mexico Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez, D-Belen, questioned Wednesday whether Squier can effectively manage the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, otherwise known as food stamps, without recognizing the severe prevalence of hunger. He said Squier should resign.

“How can she work on solving a problem if she doesn’t fully understand the problem?” Sanchez asked. “Lack of nutrition is not at the root of the hunger problem so prevalent in our state; it is poverty.”

Squier’s remark also spurred criticism within Gov. Susana Martinez’s administration.

A day after the email was sent, Children, Youth and Families Secretary Yolanda Deines, the chairwoman of the Hunger Task Force, replied, saying hunger in New Mexico is a real concern.

“We believe that the data gathered … does indicate that hunger and food insecurity very much exists in New Mexico,” Deines wrote. “Based on that data the committee is striving to find the most efficient way of addressing these issues.”

After criticism and a news media inquiry by KOAT-TV, Squier changed her tune. In a statement, Squier said her comment was “poorly worded.”

“I agree that there are hungry children in New Mexico, and none of them should go without access to food or be malnourished,” Squier said. “My email was poorly worded, and I share Gov. (Susana) Martinez’s goals of ensuring that every child has access to healthy meals.”

Governor’s spokesman Enrique Knell said Martinez believed the email was worded “poorly and inarticulately” but said the governor would not ask Squier to resign from the Hunger Task Force or the Human Services Department.

“Of course there are children who are hungry in New Mexico. The governor knows that, and Secretary Squier shares her opinion that there is no excuse for a child in New Mexico to ever be hungry,” Knell said.

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