Saturday, November 08, 2014

Will Fighting Hunger and Poverty be a Priority During Gov. Susana Martinez's Second Term?

"In the fall of 2003, I stood on a stage very similar to this one at another hotel in Albuquerque. The occasion was then-Governor Richardson’s Hunger Summit, a gathering attended by about 300 people. That summit, by the way, was precipitated by USDA statistics that found New Mexico ranked number one in the U.S. in food insecurity.  

The story I told then is the same one I’ll tell today. We must shift our attention from only addressing the symptoms, namely hunger and food insecurity, and stop ignoring the disease, namely poverty."   -Mark Winne (excerpts from keynote speech at End Hunger Conference, July 2014)

The other day I received an envelope containing  a shiny, glossy brochure with a long list of Issues and Challenges addressed during the End Hunger in New Mexico Summit 2014.  The brochure also contained a list of Action Areas discussed at the summit, as well as a long list of highlights. On the same week, while cleaning out some files in our office/computer room I happened to have come across a report entitled The State of Hunger in New Mexico, dated October 16-17, 2003.  Mark Winne, a keynote speaker at the End Hunger in New Mexico event in 2014, was also a major participant in the 2003 summit. He offered a comparison of the two summits and pointed out some areas of progress, but also indicating that we really haven't done a lot to solve this ongoing problem that has prevailed during the administrations of Democratic Gov. Bill Richardson and Republican Gov. Susana Martinez.

What role will Human Services Department play?
Martinez was reelected by a broad margin in November 2014, and we hope that she will take the problem more seriously during her second term. Eliminating hunger and poverty in our state did not appear to be a top priority for her in her first term. In fact, the very opposite was true. She hired a secretary of health and human services who said there was "no evidence of significant hunger in New Mexico." That secretary, Sidonie Squier, recently submitted her resignation.

Martinez has an opportunity to rectify this mistaken by appointing an individual to the post who truly recognizes that there are structural problems that perpetuate hunger in New Mexico. That individual must take a broad view of the problem, recognizing that hunger not only affects children and seniors, but also  working families, rural communities, Indian reservations and border communities. I wrote about taking this comprehensive view following the July 2014 summit.

An important step would be for the Human Services Department (HSD) to participate in any statewide anti-hunger efforts. The  agencies most involved with the anti-hunger summit in July 2014 were the North Central New Mexico Economic Development District and the Non-Metro Area Agency on Aging. Where was HSD? The organizers of the July summit spoke of holding  a follow-up summit, perhaps in the summer of 2015. Will the new head of HSD be a major participant?

And while we're looking to develop long-term solutions to hunger in New Mexico, our state should continue to support and strengthen our safety net. Near the end of Martinez's first term, HSD proposed  quite the opposite: a change in the work requirement to limit food stamps available to adults by expanding mandatory job search requirements to include households with children and work requirements for all childless adults.

The New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty and the Southwest Organizing Project filed a lawsuit, claiming that  the agency did not follow proper procedures in adopting new work-related requirements. In response to the lawsuit, a state district judge put a temporary halt to the new requirements, which prompted the HSD to announce that it would redo the plan for imposing work requirements. An HSD spokesperson said the change was an attempt to bring "increased transparency and accountability" to the process.

While the effort to bring stakeholders into the process is important because there will now be public debate, the administration is still intent on imposing the work rules. We hope that beyond bringing more "transparency" into its directives, the administration makes a serious attempt to address hunger and poverty in our state. Martinez needs to put her muscle behind a plan that brings in all the relevant agencies.  A good first step is to ensure that HSD is part of the solution and not an obstacle.

From brochure from July 2014 conference

Table of Contents from report following 2003 summit

1 comment:

Michelle Meaders said...

I can't see them admitting that much of the poverty is because of their policies, like vetoing raising the minimum wage, not raising taxes on the rich to fund the state, and cutting various state programs. And now they will do things that make life worse for many workers: right-to-work-for-less and other ways to hurt state workers, limitations on abortion, voter suppression and less environmental regulation. Republicans don't want to admit that government programs can help working people, while they pass programs that do help the rich.