NEW MEXICO (KRQE) – The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) helps low-income families buy food. Due to differences in how states administer the program, not all states are equal when it comes to access.

The latest federal data, from 2021, reveals that New Mexico ranks high in terms of accessibility to the program.

“SNAP serves a vital role in improving the health and well-being of low-income New Mexicans by making adequate, nutritious food more affordable,” Marina Piña, the director of communications for New Mexico’s Human Services Department says. “Additionally, SNAP contributes to the improvement of the New Mexico economy. In New Mexico every $1 in new SNAP benefits generates as much as $2 in economic activity, helping farmers, grocers, truckers, and other members of local and regional workforces.”

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) tracks how many people are enrolled in SNAP programs and compares that to the number of individuals that earn less than 125% of the federal poverty income level. The ratio of those two numbers acts as a representative for accessibility to SNAP benefits, and a higher number is better.

The latest data shows New Mexico has more people on SNAP benefits than there are individuals who earn less than 125% of the poverty level. This means New Mexico ranked third out of all the states in 2021.

That’s a big improvement from a decade ago. In 2011, there were more New Mexicans below the 125% poverty level than there were New Mexicans enrolled in SNAP. Now, it’s the other way around, indicating a high degree of access in the state.

So, what’s behind New Mexico’s numbers? According to SNAP Director Ellen Vollinger, one factor might be the income limit New Mexico uses for SNAP eligibility.

New Mexico allows residents earning up to more than 1.6 times the federal poverty level to receive benefits, Vollinger explained online.

But the state’s Human Services Department (HSD) has also worked to ensure locals can access resources. For example, the state received a federal waiver to allow applicants to apply for and sign on to benefits over the phone, according to Marina Piña, from HSD.

The fact that New Mexicans can apply online is also a big benefit, Piña notes. “This innovative process reduces the barriers to apply for benefits during the field office hours and to allow the customers to apply and complete their interview around their schedule,” Piña says.