This is serious business. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance program, commonly called food stamps, is up for reconsideration in Congress as part of the annual farm bill.The farm bills passed by the …
This is serious business. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance program, commonly called food stamps, is up for reconsideration in Congress as part of the annual farm bill.
The farm bills passed by the House and Senate treat SNAP very differently. The House version would impose expanded work requirements on people in the program; in the Senate version, the work requirements would remain the same. The differences will have to be reconciled in a conference committee.
The outcome of this negotiation is serious because SNAP is a very important program in relieving hunger. It is big nationally and in New Mexico, and it works.
About 44 million (1 in 7) poor and working-class Americans use SNAP to buy their groceries. In New Mexico, 471,000 (or 1 in 4 ) residents use SNAP to assist with food purchase.
Three quarters of those New Mexicans are in families with children. The other quarter are in families with elderly or disabled members. Remember, too, that Taos County has a higher rate of poverty than the state as a whole, so a greater proportion of county residents participate in SNAP.
It works. It allows many families to put food on the table and still pay the rent. It is hardly overly generous.
On average, it provides about $123 per month for each family member, or about $1.36 per family member per meal. In most families, the supplement runs out about the third week of the month, so the family must turn to food pantries to fill in.
Studies show that kids who get enough food, do better in school, are more likely to progress in their studies and be more ready to participate effectively in the job market, requiring less assistance in the long run.
Regarding work requirements, it needs to be noted that present program rules require recipients to work. Anyone under 49 and not raising children must verify monthly that they are working or in a job training program for at least 20 hours per week.
In New Mexico, more than half of the families in SNAP meet those work requirements. Also, the jobs these folks have are usually below minimum wage with no benefits, irregular hours and frequent layoffs, making it particularly difficult for families with children.
So, the expanded work requirements of the House bill, which would increase the workers' age limits to 59 and include workers with children over 6, would also remove anyone not meeting the requirements from the program for a full year. These additional work requirements are intended to nudge people toward increased employment, but research shows that they are better at forcing people off programs than expanding employment.
Estimates are that as many as 1 million people, including many children, would lose SNAP benefits.
We are fortunate in Northern New Mexico because Sens. Udall and Heinrich and Congressman Lujan understand the importance of SNAP to our future and fight for it. But they need our vocal support in the face of Republican majorities in Congress.
And, our free press must keep this issue from being buried in the minutia of Washington process and the blither of Trump tweets.
Robert H. Lurcott is a former Taos resident and longtime property owner. He now resides in Santa Fe, and is a member of RESULTS, a national poverty advocacy group.
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