Legislative report flags barriers to NM benefits - Albuquerque Journal

Legislative report flags barriers to NM benefits

The Roundhouse in Santa Fe. (Eddie Moore/Journal)

Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – The complexity of paperwork and other barriers keep many low-income families from taking full advantage of the state and federal benefits available to them, according to a report issued by legislative analysts.

Moreover, there’s some disparity by race and ethnicity, the report said.

Native Americans, for example, make up roughly 11% of the state population, but comprise just 9% of enrollment in the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program. The low enrollment rate, the report notes, comes even though Native Americans face higher poverty rates than whites.

The findings are outlined in a 59-page report issued by analysts for the Legislative Finance Committee, the research and accountability arm of the Legislature.

The report said the package of federal and state benefits available to low-income families is enough to meet their basic needs in some cases, but many families are eligible and don’t participate.

The share of eligible New Mexicans who get unemployment insurance, for example, is below the national average, according to the report.

In some cases, lengthy or complex applications may be to blame. In New Mexico, just 19% of the applicants for TANF – which can provide monthly cash to low-income families – actually receive the benefit, 7 percentage points lower than the national average, according to the report.

The report cited language barriers, lack of knowledge about programs and social stigma as factors that keep people from getting help for which they’re eligible.

Some programs are reaching eligible residents at higher rates. For example, more state residents eligible for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program – sometimes called food stamps – participate than the average in other states.

Human Services Secretary David Scrase told lawmakers that he appreciated the report.

Automating the processing of applications – through an online portal, for example – is one key to making it easier for people to apply and receive aid, he said. Expanded broadband services, Scrase said, are also essential.

He urged legislators also to look at ways to address the “cliff effect” – the phenomenon of people losing benefits when they get a raise or a new job, leaving them worse off than if they hadn’t earned more.

“We all know of people who have turned down a dollar-an-hour raise because that will cause them not to receive” certain benefits, Scrase said. “Those effects are real.”


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