Thursday, September 08, 2011
New Mexicans No Longer Hungriest in Nation: NM Center on Law and Poverty Urges Legislature to Prevent Backsliding
According to new data released yesterday by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) in its annual report on food insecurity, New Mexico no longer leads the country in hunger. On average in the years 2005-07, New Mexico had the second highest rate of hunger in the country. The New Mexico numbers released yesterday covers the three years during the heart of the recession, 2008-10. During that time, New Mexico improved its ranking from 2nd worst in the nation to 13th.
The NM Center on Law and Poverty (NMCLP) largely credits the improved ranking to steps New Mexico had taken during that period to improve safety net programs and warns that New Mexico is at risk of backsliding if it eliminates the very improvements which proved effective during the economic downturn.
The NMCLP offered the following as some of the improvements that likely contributed to New Mexico’s improved ranking, and which have been cut or are at risk of being cut:
- In late 2007, New Mexico launched the Food Stamp/SNAP State Supplement to ensure that low-income older and disabled individuals received at least $25 a month in nutrition assistance. The program was slated for elimination effective July 1, 2011. Un-used federal stimulus funds were spent to keep the program in place through the end of September. Now the Legislature has the opportunity to restore funding for the program beyond September during the special legislative session.
- In 2008, New Mexico increased the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) benefit for the first time in 15 years. In January 2011, that increase was eliminated when TANF benefits were cut by 15% bringing benefits back down to their 1995 levels. At current levels, low-income children and their families who receive the maximum benefit amount are only brought up to 25% of the poverty line. That’s just $4,560 a year for a family of three.
- In 2008, New Mexico launched the Winter Clothing Allowance which provided low-income children with a $100 clothing allowance in January. This program was eliminated in January 2011.
- In 2008, New Mexico launched the Employment Retention Bonus Program, which provides supports for families receiving cash assistance as they increase their earned income. This program was eliminated in February 2011.
According to the USDA, one in seven households in New Mexico struggled with hunger on average in the years 2008-2010. Nearly 6% of these were considered to have “very low food security.” People that fall into this USDA category had more severe problems, experiencing deeper hunger and cutting back or skipping meals on a more frequent basis for both adults and children. “This demonstrates that now is the time to strengthen, not weaken the safety net,” said Patricia Anders, Staff Attorney, NM Center on Law and Poverty. “We should not cut the very programs that proved effective at staving off the increases in hunger experienced in other states during the downturn.”
With high unemployment and food and gas prices on the rise, thousands of New Mexicans are still struggling to make ends meet. The cuts will impact 50,000 low-income New Mexicans including 30,000 children and over 4,000 of New Mexico’s low-income older and disabled citizens. “They may undo the great strides New Mexico has made in addressing hunger” said Anders.
About the USDA Report
Since 1995, the United States Department of Agriculture, using data from surveys conducted annually by the Census Bureau, has released estimates of the number of people in households that are food insecure. Food insecure households are those that are not able to afford an adequate diet at all times in the past 12 months. The report also includes food insecurity rates for each state, but for states it uses three-year averages to give a better estimate of the number of households experiencing food insecurity.
Experts agree that the Census/USDA measure of food insecurity is a conservative one, with the result that only households experiencing substantial food insecurity are so classified.