SANTA FE – Republican Gov. Susana Martinez’s administration wants to expand work, training and job-search requirements for low-income New Mexicans to qualify for food stamps.
Rules proposed by the Human Services Department would require parents of children older than 6 to participate in up to 80 hours a month of specified activities, such as community service.
Rules that tie food assistance to activities such as job searches and training are currently imposed on most single, able-bodied adults ages 18 to 50. That would be expanded to include 16- through 60-year-olds.
The proposed requirements come after the state had a 21 percent increase in the number of cases in the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, over the year that ended in April. More than 20 percent of the state’s population of over 2 million is enrolled in the program.
The Martinez administration argues that the work programs will ensure eligible families and individuals get the training and experience needed to support themselves.
“In addition to reducing recipients’ need for assistance, work programs seek to enhance recipients’ sense of self-worth and esteem,” says the Human Services Department’s employment and training plan for the 2016 fiscal year. “Working parents provide an appropriate role model for children in the home, thereby contributing to a reduction in multi-generational dependency.”
The department tried to implement similar rules in late October but was sued by the Southwest Organizing Project and the New Mexico Center for Law and Poverty. The groups claimed the agency failed to adequately notify the public that it planned to make the changes.
State District Judge Sarah Singleton of Santa Fe imposed a temporary restraining order that prevented the department from moving forward.
Welfare legislation signed into law by Democratic President Bill Clinton in 1996 requires states to offer employment and training programs for SNAP recipients. The federal rules give states flexibility in operating the programs.
The 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act allowed New Mexico to apply for a waiver of certain work requirements, such as a three-month cap on food benefits for those who don’t comply with work rules.
Human Services Department spokesman Matt Kennicott told The Santa Fe New Mexican that the latest proposal removes the waiver and restores requirements that were previously in place.
“These are the same broad-based job search requirements that have existed for years in most public assistance programs throughout New Mexico,” he said, noting that the waiver was never intended to be permanent.
Louise Pocock, a staff attorney with the New Mexico Center for Law and Poverty, said the administration’s proposal would expand the population subject to the work requirements to the maximum extent allowable under federal law.
“We don’t think that that’s a great idea, considering we’re a state with the highest hunger and poverty” rates in the nation, she said.
Pocock said 27 other states don’t impose such requirements.
New Mexico also is proposing exemptions that would allow some recipients to avoid the work requirements, including “lack of allowable work activity within reasonable commuting distance.”