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Editorial: Work is not a bad word even for those in poverty

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New Mexico’s Catholic bishops appear to think work is a four-letter word.

The bishops are incensed that Gov. Susana Martinez’s administration plans to reinstate work-related requirements in October for an estimated 26,600 able-bodied adults who don’t have children but receive food stamps through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. The 20-hour-a-week work requirement was suspended in 2009 because of the recession. The administration also plans to implement a work component for parents and other caregivers of children ages 6 and older.

The requirements don’t mean recipients actually have to work, although that would be preferable. If they can’t find work, they can attend a work training program or perform community service – requirements the bishops find “unconscionable.”

A statement from Archbishop of Santa Fe Michael Sheehan, Bishop of Gallup James Wall and Bishop of Las Cruces Oscar Cantú says, “New Mexico is not yet through the bad times brought on by the recession. … The administration …wants to deny food benefits to those who cannot find a job in a market that isn’t producing any.”

That’s just not true. Given the alternatives, no one should be denied benefits simply because he or she can’t find a job, although perhaps not they one they want. And similar job-search requirements have existed for years in public assistance programs, such as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, which provides cash to needy families for a set period of time. Welfare in whatever form was never meant to be a permanent way of life.

While New Mexico is struggling to recover from the recession, many people are taking lower paying gigs to make ends meet. For those who can’t find work, there are dozens of nonprofits that would love to have an extra pair of hands. Volunteering is a good way of gaining skills and making contacts that can lead to jobs.

It’s understandable the bishops, whose calling in part is to minister to the poor, would worry these requirements would be a blow to struggling families. No one wants to see that. But it’s also true that working can give people hope that someday they won’t have to depend on government handouts.

How and how much to support needy people requires a delicate balance. The state’s approach reaches that.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.

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