Friday, May 04, 2012

Big Gaping Holes in the Safety Net in New Mexico

Some politicians in Washington are talking about reducing the budget deficit by cutting big holes in our safety net.  So what happens if Congress gets its way, and many eligible people are dropped from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)?   How would this affect New Mexicans?

Let's ask the folks in Luna County (Deming), where food insecurity is a whopping 28.5%. And in neighboring Grant County (and Silver City),  where food insecurity is 20%.  The rate is close to  18% in Catron County and Hidalgo County. Food insecurity is high in southwestern New Mexico.  And it does not get any better as you go east.  The 18% rate applies to Sierra, Doña Ana (Las Cruces), Otero Counties.  So we can say food insecurity is high in southern New Mexico. 

But wait a minute. Guadalupe County (Santa Rosa) in eastern New Mexico also has a food insecurity rate of 20%, and McKinley county (Gallup) almost 23%. And in San Miguel (Las Vegas), Taos, and San Juan (Farmington) Counties, the rate is at about  18%.  The rate is only slightly better in Bernalillo County at 16% and in Santa Fe County at about 15%.  In fact,  the only county in New Mexico where food insecurity is not above 14% is Los Alamos County, home to the city in the US with the most millionnaires per capita. (Even so, Los Alamos County has a food insecurity rate of 9%).

So just how do you measure food insecurity? 
The term refers to the USDA's measure of lack of access, at times, to enough food for an active healthy life for all household members and limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate food.

Food insecure households are not necessarily food insecure all the time. Food insecurity may reflect a household's need to make trade-offs between important basic needs, such as housing or medical bills, and purchasing nutritionally adequate foods.

These percentages come from the Map the Meal Gap project conducted by Feeding America, an organization that supports a nationwide network of food banks, including Roadrunner Food Bank.  The map reflects 2009 and 2010 data for every county in the United States, including child food insecurity.  The map will be updated every year with new data.

Feeding America put together a great Executive Summary to accompany Map the Meal Gap 2012 
As the dynamics of the economy shift and Congress makes policy decisions affecting the nutrition safety net, it becomes increasingly important to understand the picture of food insecurity in the diverse communities across the country. Feeding America believes that addressing the problem of hunger requires a thorough understanding of the problem itself. For the second consecutive year, Feeding America has undertaken the Map the Meal Gap project to continue learning about the face of hunger at the local level. By understanding the population in need, communities can better identify strategies for reaching the people who most need food assistance.
So how are we to address these dire needs during a time of economic slowdown? Please ask our elected representatives in Washington and Santa Fe and those who seek to represent us to strengthen, not reduce, the safety net.

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