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Fight brewing over SNAP work rules

SANTA FE, N.M. — Critics who last year beat back a state proposal to toughen work rules for New Mexicans on food assistance are gearing up for another round.

Gov. Susana Martinez’s administration plans to reimpose an expanded version of work rules for participants in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as the food stamp program.

The Human Services Department has scheduled a hearing for July 17 in Santa Fe on its latest proposal.

The New Mexico Conference of Catholic Bishops has objected, saying last week that the rules would create “more bureaucratic barriers for our families who need SNAP to feed their children.”

Opponents of the plan say SNAP is the most effective hunger-fighting program in a state racked by poverty and food insecurity and still grappling with the recession.

“Until the state starts creating jobs that pay a living wage, punishing people for not finding work is only going to make a bad situation worse,” said Veronica Garcia, executive director of New Mexico Voices for Children.

The SouthWest Organizing Project and other community groups are holding a “town hall” on the issue on Wednesday in Albuquerque to take testimony on the proposal.

In 2014, opposition to an identical plan resulted in a state district court blocking the Human Services Department from imposing it. The organizations that sued said the department hadn’t provided adequate notice of the changes. The department said at the time it would reissue the regulations.

The proposal includes requiring parents of children over age 6 to participate in work-related activities.

And it would expand existing work rules for childless able-bodied adults on SNAP. Currently, they apply to those from 18 through 50; the new rules would apply from ages 16 through 60.

About 62,500 additional people would be covered by the new requirements, for a total of about 84,000 participating in work-related activities, according to the Human Services Department’s projections.

About 480,000 people are now on SNAP, the department said. Many are exempted by law from the work rules.

Participants who are covered can be disqualified from the program for not complying.

The department says the plan would basically restore requirements that were in place before they were waived under the 2009 federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

The department “will continue providing assistance to help those in need find work or job training opportunities,” said HSD spokesman Matt Kennicott.

“We want to do this to help people become more self-sufficient,” Kennicott told the Journal. “This is one way for us to help folks find good, steady work.”

He also said the rules allow for department-issued exemptions, and it’s not clear how many of the projected 62,000 people would be required to comply.

The New Mexico Conference of Catholic Bishops contends there is no evidence the department’s current work program helps SNAP participants get jobs or learn skills.

Executive Director Allen Sanchez said in a June 30 statement that it’s “doubtful” the department or its work program contractor can manage the thousands of participants to be added to the caseload.

“We fear the participants will simply be pushed off SNAP and lose the nutrition assistance they need,” Sanchez said.

The New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty objects that the work rules are the most expansive allowed under federal law. Kennicott said he could not immediately comment on that.

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