State officials: More than 12,000 at risk of losing food stamps

Data Reporting

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham and the New Mexico Department of Health and Human Services announced Monday the state’s opposition to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) proposal to end automatic eligibility for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, or commonly known as food stamps) for people who already get federal or state aid – an estimated 3.1 million recipients nationwide.   

New Mexico would be heavily impacted by this rule, according to the state’s Department of Health and Human Services (HSD). The agency predicts that approximately 12,261 New Mexicans will lose their food assistance benefits if this proposal moves forward. 

More than 400,000 New Mexicans receive food stamps, so only about 3% of recipients are at risk. The state is still calling for the USDA to rescind this measure because according to the state’s demographical data, more than half of those affected would be single parents and more than five thousand would be children. Of those 6,500 single parents, nearly 3,000 are enrolled full-time in college or another form of higher education. 

“In New Mexico, this is really going to hurt people who are trying to change their lives,” said Jodi McGinnis Porter, HSD Communications Director. 

KRQE acquired the state dataset used to measure the potential impact of the proposed SNAP rule. 

Breakdown of New Mexico SNAP recipients at greatest risk of losing food assistance

This comes after Gov. Lujan Grisham joined a group of 17 governors that sent a letter to Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue last month voicing opposition to the department’s proposal. 

“Should this proposed rule take effect as written, hundreds of thousands of beneficiaries in our states would lose access to basic food assistance,” the letter said. “As the Department’s own analysis reflects, many of those impacted would be among the most vulnerable in our states, including individuals with disabilities and the elderly.” 

The proposal also jeopardizes access to free school meals for an estimated 500,000 low-income children nationwide, according to the letter. That number represents the children that automatically receive free meals from federally assisted meal programs, like the National School Lunch Program (NSLP), when their family receives food stamps.  

SNAP participation contributes to the determination of funding for schools. Schools are required to certify children who live in households that participate in the SNAP program for free meals and to help determine NSLP funding, according to the Food Research and Action Center. Participation is also used to determine which schools qualify for the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) which allows schools to provide free meals to all students in high-poverty areas. 

Out of the state’s approximately 935 public and charter schools, childcare institutions and schools that are overseen by the Bureau of Indian Education, 897 received either NSLP or CEP funding during the 2018-19 academic year, according to the New Mexico Public Education Department (PED). 

Meanwhile, New Mexico has the third-highest rate in the nation for students who receive free or reduced meals at school. In the 2018-19 school year, more than $131 million in free breakfasts and lunches was provided to New Mexico kids, according to PED. And in 2015, nearly two-thirds of New Mexico public school students were eligible for these free or reduced-price school meals, per the National Center of Education Statistics.  

Top 5 States for Percentage of Kids Eligible for Free or Reduced Lunches, 2014-15 academic year

When the policy was announced it did not mention the potential impact on free school meals for children, but it was allegedly revealed privately to lawmakers beforehand, according to a July 26 letter from Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va., to Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue. 

In the letter, Rep. Scott alleged that “in a phone briefing with House Committee on Education and Labor staff on July 22, 2019, [Perdue’s] staff stated that the Department’s Food and Nutrition Service estimates that the proposed rule will result in more than 500,000 children losing their automatic eligibility for free school meals. However, when the rule was published… the Regulatory Impact Analysis did not include the discussion of the rule’s impact on free school meal eligibility.”  

The USDA said the proposed rule is designed to eliminate loopholes and save money.  

“For too long, this loophole has been used to effectively bypass important eligibility guidelines. Too often, states have misused this flexibility without restraint,” Perdue said in a statement when the proposal was announced. 

New Mexico Democratic Rep. Deb Haaland, Vice-Chair of the Families and Children Living in Poverty task force told KRQE that she believes this administration is attacking what she refers to as an important safety net. 

“We won’t stand by while this administration continues to chip away at benefits that give people assistance when they need it most. I’m urging Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue to immediately rescind this shortsighted proposal that will leave over 3 million Americans to go hungry,” said Haaland. 

According to the 2017 Census Bureau Community Survey, 27% of New Mexico children lived under the poverty line. The state also ranked last in the country for food security, according to the USDA. 

The public comment period for the proposed rule ends Monday. 

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