Friday, September 27, 2013

No Significant Hunger in New Mexico?

“Since there has never been and is not now any significant evidence of hunger in N.M., I would offer that the focus of the report should be on getting proper nutrition to children (and adults).”   E-mail sent by Human Services Secretary Sidonie Squier

Hunger data for 2010 from Food Depot
Sidonie Squier is a member of the New Mexico Hunger Task Force and director of the Human Services Department, the state agency that manages food assistance programs.So when Secretary Squier says that there has never been and is not now any significant evidence of hunger in New Mexico, there is a justifiable and collective huh?!! from the media, legislators and anti-hunger advocates. 

Even her boss, Gov. Susana Martinez and other cabinet secretaries were forced into a spin mode to defend the secretary. "Of course there are children who are hungry in New Mexico," Martinez's spokesperson Enrique Knell told the Albuquerque Journal. "The governor knows that, and Secretary Squier shares her opinion that there is no excuse for a child in New Mexico to ever be hungry."

And Squier had to dig herself out of the hole the day after her infamous e-mail circulated. "I agree that there are hungry children in New Mexico, and none of them should go without access to food or be malnourished,” Squier said. “My email was poorly worded, and I share Gov. (Susana) Martinez’s goals of ensuring that every child has access to healthy meals.”
ProgressNowNM  grilled Squier over the coals because of the comment and joined others in calling for her resignation in recent post entitled ALERT: New Mexico Hunger Problem Solved. Overnight. "Not only is there no “significant evidence of hunger in New Mexico” now, there never has been! Problem solved. I guess we can all go home..," ProgressNowNM said sarcastically

While the criticism is warranted, a greater concern is more about the mentality associated with those comments. Secretary Squier represents the type of politician who believes that the role of government in helping people should be minimized. While she did not state that position directly, her thought process is very clear. This is the same mindset as the House members who voted to cut almost $40 billion from the Supplemental Nutrition Program (SNAP) over 10 years. 

I am willing to bet that Squier travels in circles where she does not have to encounter hungry people.

And by her comments, Secretary Squier seemed to imply that information from Feeding America and the Annie E. Casey Foundation about the high  rate of food insecurity and child hunger in our state is not accurate. Again, her comments didn't address the reports directly.  But when she said there has never been and is not now any significant evidence of hunger, her conclusions were different than those presented by the reports. The trends are not new. The Food Depot, Roadrunner Food Bank, the New Mexico Voices for Children, have been presenting evidence that hunger exists in communities throughout our state.

While I am not going to join those calling for Squier's resignation, I am going to urge the secretary to travel to the communities where hunger exists, to spend time with families that suffer hunger, to talk more to the social workers, health workers, nutritionists, food-pantry operators and officials from the food banks linked to the New Mexico Association of Food Banks. I am willing to bet that she was not one of the participants in Rep. Ben Ray Lujan's Virtual Town Hall on Hunger and Poverty. Once she learns the facts and experiences the realities of hunger in New Mexico, then she can do the job for which she was appointed.

And I will give the secretary credit for one statement in her e-mail, that a focus should be on getting proper nutrition to children (and adults). As the documentary A Place at the Table illustrates, food insecurity in our country is not necessarily manifested in the lack of food, but in the lack of nutritious food. So the secretary should follow up her efforts to learn about hunger in New Mexico by reviewing the data on food deserts and the availability of fruits and vegetables in inner cities and rural areas in our state. Believe me Secretary Squier, a child who has to fill up on foods like chips, which provide empty calories, is indeed a hungry person.

1 comment:

Ellen said...

Thank you Carlos and Christine Spahn for beginning the conversation with a new inter-faith coalition to bring awareness to our congregations Save the date: October 25 -Friday night- (location and details to be announced) to add your voice to this conversation.