SANTA FE, N.M. (KRQE) – After more than a year of research, a task force examining how to end childhood hunger in Santa Fe has released its recommendations. The big picture: Feeding children require an increase in wages, and that won’t come easily.
The report on how to prevent childhood hunger was put together by policy advocates and experts organized by The Food Depot. That’s a food bank that provides food services to residents in nine counties in Northern New Mexico. “We recognize that this is a complex issue,” Sherry Hooper, the executive director of The Food Depot said in a press conference on Tuesday. “It’s time for bold action.”
Santa Fe County has around 5,000 children under the age of 18 who are repeatedly food insecure, according to the latest data from the state’s Human Services Department. That means that there are likely thousands of children in the county who have to limit or skip meals or eat a reduced diet.
State leaders have taken steps to fix the problem. Earlier this year, for example, the Office of the Governor initiated a $10 million grant to try to increase food security. But the new report from The Food Depot says ending childhood hunger in Santa Fe might not be so easy.
The only way it will happen, the report says, is by increasing wages. They recommend raising the minimum wage in Santa Fe from the current $12.95 to around $22 to $25 per hour. That income, plus some government benefits, would be enough for a “living wage” that would ensure families can cover living expenses as well as sufficient food.
There is “no “cheap and easy” alternative that promises success in eliminating childhood hunger; our task force believes there is no less expensive alternative that can succeed in attaining that objective.”
“Not only is there no ‘cheap and easy’ alternative that promises success in eliminating childhood hunger; our task force believes there is no less expensive alternative that can succeed,” the report says.
The report goes on to explain that doubling down on existing efforts may not be enough to end childhood hunger. “Despite the good intentions of the individuals and organizations involved in the myriad existing anti-hunger programs and efforts, both governmental and nonprofit, and expenditure of multimillions of dollars annually, this objective has never been achieved in Santa Fe or anywhere else in the U. S.,” the report notes.
While the report focuses on Santa Fe County, some public figures say the report has implications for the entire state.
“This report shows that we are at a turning point and that we are looking at how to approach hunger in a more broad way,” Santa Fe County Commissioner Anna Hansen said at a news conference Tuesday. “The county is a subdivision of the state… We have to think about how we’re going to pull them in, how we’re going to use the resources that we can.”
Commissioner Hansen also called on private businesses to help foot the bill.
“It is not just the counties and the cities that need to make sure that there is a living wage. It is private corporations that need to recognize that they have to pay workers more,” Hansen said. “And when they say, ‘well these workers are not educated.’ That doesn’t matter. That is not an excuse.”
Following the release of the report, Santa Fe County commissioners announced that June 21 would be “End Childhood Hunger Day.” Santa Fe Mayor Alan Webber joined the proclamation to mark the day.
“Santa Fe is a city with the ability to see to it that no child goes hungry,” Webber told KRQE News 13. “We have farmers and ranchers who produce healthy produce and meat, award-winning chefs and restaurants, and community outreach workers who can connect food and families. We need to align all those pieces so every child in Santa Fe can eat three healthy meals every day.”
When asked whether or not a $22 per hour living wage is possible in Santa Fe, the mayor says he plans on setting up another task force to address the issue. “I intend to form a task force that represents all parts of our community to take a look at what a living wage really is in 2022 in Santa Fe,” Webber says. “Santa Fe led the nation when we first adopted a living wage, and it took every interested party to come to the table and arrive at a proposal that demonstrated real leadership. It’s time to do that again.”