The price of eggs has soared thanks to bird flu outbreaks and increased costs for producers. Pictured here, eggs at a grocery store in Albuquerque on Thursday, Jan. 19, 2023. (Photo by Shaun Griswold / Source NM)
More than half a million New Mexicans relying on food assistance will see a significant drop in their monthly benefits in March as the federal government suspends the pandemic expansion of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
The New Mexico Human Services Department said in a media briefing Thursday that families will see their benefits drop by about one-quarter when the benefit expansion ends. The federal government expanded SNAP to better help people in poverty with grocery money during the pandemic when shelves were bare and many lost their jobs.
A larger proportion of New Mexico’s population uses these benefits than any other state, with almost 24% of residents enrolled in the program. New Mexico has the third-highest rate of poverty in the nation at 18.4%, far exceeding the national rate of 12.8%, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Representatives of the Human Services Department said the state is grappling with short notice from the federal government and working on “a combination of long and short-term solutions” to strengthen social safety nets.
“Hunger isn’t the disease. It’s a symptom of the disease. And the disease is poverty,” said David Scrase, cabinet secretary for the Health and Human Services Department. “What we’ve done today is talk about one part of a very extensive multi-pronged strategy to get more to the roots of poverty in our state.”
HSD officials said the department is improving its outreach to rural communities and communities of color to help people apply for SNAP and bridge the gap in resources, and will use this outreach to help people navigate the transition.
The Legislature is hammering out the state’s budget during the session over the next two months. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham recommended $55.9 million to address high rates of food insecurity in her budget recommendation, including:
- Providing free breakfast and lunch to New Mexico students
- Giving seniors and disabled people $225 more monthly through the state’s SNAP supplement
- Investing $10 million in food banks, food pantries and tribal food assistance programs
- Expanding Double Up Food Bucks, which matches SNAP benefits used at farmer’s markets, benefits for seniors and people in the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program
People using SNAP are also eligible for the Emergency Food Assistance Program, though the federal government could cut into the program as the farm bill is debated in Congress. Those 60-years-old and older are eligible for the Commodity Supplemental Food Program. Both are federal programs that deliver food boxes to those in need of assistance.
Food banks and state agencies will ramp up their efforts to meet the needs of people losing benefits, but the task comes at a tenuous time for food banks.
Santa Fe Food Depot executive director Sherry Hooper said that donations to food banks have decreased, while food and fuel costs have increased. Demand remains high, she said.
“Although we are still seeing the pandemic impacting families in New Mexico, we are seeing that the federal government is saying that program can go back to pre-pandemic level funding,” Hooper said. “And we are at a point where we’re still seeing very long lines at food pantries and at the food banks. In fact we’re actually seeing long lines that are equal to what we were seeing at the height of the pandemic. So we are concerned that the federal government is looking to decrease funding.”
The change in benefits also means that recipients must renew their benefits and submit interim reports every six months. Recipients can renew their benefits through the Human Services Department website or their local Human Services Department field office when they receive a renewal notice.
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