Tuesday, December 17, 2013

SNAP Cuts: A Perspective from Grant Count

By Michele Giese RN 

One or two times a month Norma and Bob volunteer side by side at the St. Francis Associates food pantry where they work to distribute food to hungry people living in Grant County. They are just a couple of the many volunteers who work at our local food pantries that collectively serve around 4,000 people each month. They don’t have much to give, however what they do hand out is a huge dose of love and compassion. According to Norma, the need for food is steadily increasing with families now stopping by from as far away as Bayard, Santa Clara, and Hurley. Many of these families have young children and it breaks her heart to witness this need for food. This may be just the beginning of hard times for local organizations who feed the poor as looming federal budget cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) may create an even larger hunger deficit in our communities.

SNAP, previously known as the Food Stamp Program, is a government program designed to assist low income families to pay for food. The program is the safety net that thousands of Americans turn to in their darkest hour. Currently, proposed federal budget cuts to SNAP total $40 billion over the next ten years. In fact, a 5% cut was already made to SNAP last month when federal stimulus funding ran out. Those who will suffer the most from these cuts are our senior citizens, who make up approximately 50% of the population receiving food assistance in Grant County, and our young children, many of whom live in families that rely on SNAP to put food on the table.

Grant County food pantries, which distribute food to the needy, are already struggling to meet the rising demand for food. Budget cuts to SNAP will increase that need. According to New Mexico Voices for Children only 62% of New Mexico families with children that are eligible actually receive SNAP benefits. A recent study conducted by Feeding America, a hunger relief charity shows that New Mexico has the most hungry children of any state in the nation (30.6% of children are hungry). An alarming 2013 report by the AARP Foundation stated that in 2010 hunger costs America approximately $167 billion due to the combination of lost economic productivity, more expensive public education because of poor education outcomes, avoidable health care costs, and the costs of contributions to emergency food organizations.

Easy to Apply in New Mexico
Any New Mexico resident who meets the SNAP income requirements can sign up for the program, including low-income non-citizens and people living in shelters or certain group homes. The program provides participants with a small monthly stipend on a debit card that can only be used to buy food. To qualify, most households have to pass a gross income test, a net income test, or both. Most able-bodied adults must also work to qualify.

Many eligible families are unaware that New Mexico does not require an asset test to qualify for SNAP. In other words, New Mexicans cannot be denied benefits based on assets they own such as a car, a house, or money in a savings or a checking account. In addition, SNAP benefits should not be denied to eligible people who share a house with others, but do not prepare meals together, such as live-in attendants or certain boarders.

Here in Grant County applications for SNAP can be acquired at our local Income Support Division (ISD) office located at 1422 Hwy 180 East in Silver City, (575)- 538-2949. One can also obtain a copy of the Application for Assistance online at NewMexicoResources.org, or call the ISD office and have them send you a copy. Local organizations that assist with SNAP enrollment applications are Hidalgo Medical Services Family Support located at 1007 N Pope St. in Silver City, (575)-388-1511 and, the Silver City Gospel Mission located at 111 South Texas Street (575)-388-5071.

(The author is a member of the New Mexico Department of Health, Southwest Region Health Promotion Team. She  can be reached at michele.giese@state.nm.us or 538-8573 ext 121).

Reprinted with permission of the Silver City Daily Press, which originally published this piece.

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