|Photo via Rep. Melanie Stansbury|
Reflecting over five months of work by food and hunger experts, organizations, and legislators—House Memorial 6 and House Bill 75 call for a task force and study to look at systemic hunger, food, and agricultural issues in New Mexico. So proud of this important work and grateful for everyone who made it happen! -Rep. Melanie Stansbury, Dec 20, 2019
A couple of dozen people have gathered in the conference room at Roadrunner Food Bank on random days over the past five months to discuss strategies and specific steps to begin to address hunger in New Mexico in a more systematic manner. Several organizations and coalitions, including our own Interfaith Hunger Coalition, were part of this dialogue. It wasn't necessarily the same people in the room at every meeting, and some engaged in the conversation via a conference call. The participation was broad, and so were the proposals.
Rep. Melanie Stansbury coordinated the effort, with other legislators participating in the process. Rep. Joanne Ferrary, Rep. Karen Bash, Rep. Bill Pratt and Sen. Michael Padilla were among those who engaged in the dialogue Other legislators have provided input, including Rep. Gail Armstrong and Sen. Liz Stephanics.
The effort incorporated the ongoing plan to create a legislative Hunger Caucus in the New Mexico State Legislature to address hunger-related issues. The idea of the council/caucus grew out of a plan proposed by the IHC (spelled out in Legislative Memorials in 2018 and 2019). The caucus will be coordinated by Rep. Ferrary, with the assistance of Rep. Rebecca Dow, Sen. Michael Padilla and others. The caucus will be launched officially as part of the Food and Farms Day organized by the New Mexico Food and Agriculture Policy Council (NMFAPC) on February 6.
So who else was at the table? Roadrunner Food Bank, the Food Depot, Feeding Santa Fe, and Meals on Wheels, brought the perspective of direct service providers. The NMFAPC/Farm to Table, the New Mexico Farmers Marketing Association, Thornburg Foundation and New Mexico First ensured that our agriculture system was viewed as part of the solution. The NMFAPC also offered proposals on school nutrition, as did New Mexico Appleseed.
The New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty and New Mexico Voices for Children presented proposals intended to create a space for the needs of low-income and working families. Hunger among college students was also a topic of conversation, with University of New Mexico faculty and staff engaging in the conversations. Additionally, a representative of Cullari Communications from Dallas also offered good insights. (Allison Griffin flew in from Dallas for every meeting!). Representatives of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham's administration were also at the table, including Patty Keane (the governor's recently appointed coordinator for hunger initiatives).
Some organizations that focus on health issues, including the Alzheimer's Association, the Center for Health Innovation,and Health Action New Mexico have offered input, as has the North Central New Mexico Economic Development Agency.
A Plan for the 2020 Legislative Session
The participants took a short- and longer-term approach. We drafted our first set of proposals with the knowledge that coming 30-day session, which will focus on budgetary and funding issues.
The initiative piggy-backed on some of the proposals that some of the participating organizations were already drafting for the coming legislative session, including the NMFAPC, the NM Center on Law and Poverty and NM Voices for Children. New Mexico First helped put the proposals in a single document that was presented to members of the Legislative Finance Committee in early December.
The proposal incorporates three broad areas:
- The creation of a comprehensive study to give us the most up-to-date information (which would help us move forward in a more efficient way);
- support and enhance local food systems and local agriculture; and
- move to increase the monthly food budget for low-income families in our state.
Taking the Long-Term View
Participants are also hoping to set up a structure that will address hunger in a longer-term and broad approach, beginning with the 2021 60-day State Legislative session. In one of our early meetings, the discussion centered on the promotion of an omnibus bill, similar to the federal Farm Bill, that would take a broad look at hunger-related issues. More importantly, it would ensure that our approach takes into account the interconnections among the various areas that affect hunger in New Mexico.
Our efforts are only in their initial stages, but we have laid down the groundwork to begin to reverse the pervasive hunger problems that have affected New Mexicans for many generations.