SANTA FE (AP) - A Democratic legislative leader on Wednesday called for the resignation of Human Services Secretary Sidonie Squier for her comments that there's no "significant evidence of hunger in New Mexico."
Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez of Belen said the secretary's comments in an email last week to members of a Hunger Task Force is an example of Squier's "utter lack of understanding of what her job requires and the people she serves."
Republican Gov. Susana Martinez continues to support Squier and sees no need for her to resign, spokesman Enrique Knell said.
Squier issued a statement saying her email was poorly worded and acknowledging there is a child hunger problem in the state.
"The governor agrees that Sec. Squier's email was worded very poorly and inarticulately," Knell said. "Of course there are children who are hungry in New Mexico. The governor knows that, and Sec. Squier shares her opinion that there is no excuse for a child in New Mexico to ever be hungry."
A study by a national food bank organization this year found that New Mexico has the highest rate for childhood hunger in the nation. New Mexico had the second-highest poverty rate in the nation in 2012, according to the Census Bureau.
Squier, in an email commenting on a draft report by the task force, wrote, "Since there has never been and is not now any significant evidence of hunger in New Mexico, I would offer that the focus of the report should be on getting proper nutrition for children (and adults). The idea -which is the easy way out - that we should expand every government food program in existence is not productive, especially if the issue is nutrition and not hunger."
Sanchez said, "The lack of nutrition is not at the root of the hunger problem so prevalent in our state; it is poverty. The hungry need to know that their struggles are not only acknowledged and understood, but that there is a plan to help them, regardless if Sec. Squier thinks it's the 'easy' way out."
Knell said the governor organized the task force to "address gaps in our food services" and provide assistance to more New Mexicans.
Referring to Sanchez's call for the secretary's resignation, Knell said "it's really hard to take him seriously" because the Democratic-controlled Legislature failed initially in 2011 to provide state money to supplement federal food stamp benefits for elderly and disabled New Mexicans. Lawmakers later approved funding in a special session at the governor's request.
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