Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Updates on Food, Nutrition, Human Needs from Recently Concluded 2016 State Legislative Session

The New Mexico State Legislature met for 30 days (the short session) this year, and the focus was to pass a budget in a revenue-challenged environment. The House approved a 2016 budget of $6.2 billion (HB2). The depressed oil market was already evident during the 2015 budget year.

"As oil and gas prices continue to plummet policymakers were forced to shave and cut program funding across most agency budgets," said Pam Roy, director of the New Mexico Food and Agriculture Policy Council. "The House of Representatives passed a budget to the Senate that needed more than $8 million in cuts to balance it...All but Public Education and Corrections received cuts."

"This budget should have addressed high unemployment, lack of good-paying jobs, and high rates of child poverty and food insecurity," said Veronica C. García, Ed.D., executive director of New Mexico Voices for Children (NMVC). "Our already-underfunded public schools, higher education, child protective services, behavioral health services, court systems, and more, will continue to be stretched beyond effectiveness. The already glacial pace of phasing in pre-K education has essentially been halted."

Budget Woes
The tight budget had an influence across the board. Some proposals for increased funding for programs related to human needs, such as the State Housing Trust Fund, were not approved or not brought to the floor. One unpopular proposal to bring back a tax on groceries (as a means to raise additional revenue) resurfaced in the Senate Finance Committee, but the measure did not move forward. And funding for some programs, such as the Double Up Food Bucks Farmers Market Program, was mostly restored despite an initial proposal for severe cuts.

The State Legislature also allocated $225,000 (instead of the $400,000 that advocates were seeking) for the state SNAP Supplement.  In fact, the Senate Legislative Health and Human Services Committee had initially proposed the $400,000 allocation, which would have brought the SNAP supplement for seniors and people with disabilities to $30 from $25 previously. Under the approved allocation, the SNAP Supplement increases to $28, which is what Gov. Susana Martinez had proposed in her budget plan.

Below are updates on selected issues dealing with hunger, food, nutrition and other human needs from the New Mexico Food and Agriculture Policy Council, the Lutheran Advocacy Ministry-New Mexico and Think New Mexico.

From the New Mexico Food and Agriculture Policy Council
Double Up Food Bucks Farmers Market Program
Advocates worked hard to restore funds to the Double Up Food Bucks Farmers Market Program which received $400,000 in the 2015 Legislative session. In the first six months of the program Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) recipients had already spent nearly $200,000 of their Double Up Food Bucks (DUFB). In a January 2016 report conducted by the New Mexico Farmers Marketing Association, there was a 200 percent sales increase that positively impacted 60 percent of New Mexico counties and 60 percent of direct market farmers statewide at New Mexico's 45 participating farmers' markets.

Coming into the 2016 session the Legislative Finance Committee had only recommended $100,000. The New Mexico Farmers Marketing Association, New Mexico Food and Agriculture Policy Council, Santa Fe Farmers Market Institute and Farm to Table worked to encourage policymakers to restore the funds back to the $400,000 level which could leverage up to $2 million federal funds through the USDA Food Insecurity Nutrition Initiative (FINI). The final budget passed by the House and Senate has $390,000 - a true win for the new program in a tight budget year.

State-Grown Produce
The New Mexico Grown Fresh Fruits and Vegetables for School Meals hung onto $250,000 (2014-5 level funding) down from the 2015-6 funds of $364,300 appropriated last year.

Coming out of the Legislative session the New Mexico Food and Agriculture Policy Council and Farm to Table will be hosting a New Mexico Grown Fresh Fruit and Vegetables for School Meals Strategic Planning Process to determine the potential of the program and commitments by partners to further develop the program over the next three years and beyond.

Breakfast After the Bell
SB 144 sponsored by Senators Gay Kernan and Mimi Stewart, passed both the Senate and the House. The legislation amends the Public School Code to clarify that schools that establish a breakfast after the bell program are not prohibited from beginning breakfast service before the start of the instructional day provided the schools also serve breakfast after the beginning of the instructional day. The bill would allow for school breakfast to be served not only in the classroom but also in the cafeteria, on the buses, or by providing hand carried breakfast. One major concern is that the legislation may provide for too much leeway and school may choose not to participate, thus leaving children without an important meal to start the day.

Read full Wrap-up from NMFAPC

From the Lutheran Advocacy Ministry-New Mexico
Affordable Housing & Homelessness: SB63 
Sen. Nancy Rodriguez requested an appropriation of $5 million for the State Housing Trust Fund which provides funding to build affordable housing projects around the state. No new funding for the State Housing Trust Fund is available.

Family-Sustaining Income
LAM-NM supported increasing the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families monthly cash assistance amount. No increase is included in HB2.

SJR2 (Sen. Michael Padilla) & HJR10 (Reps. Javier Martinez & Moe Maestas)
These constitutional amendments would have allowed an increase in the distribution from the Land Grant Permanent Fund to fund quality early childhood programs. SJR2 passed the Senate Rules Committee and the Senate Judiciary Committee and died in the Senate Finance Committee. HJR10 was tabled in the House Education Committee.

Tax Policy
HB79 (Rep. Bill McCamley) Would have increased the state Working Families Tax Credit from 10% to 20% of the federal Earned Income Tax Credit and to repeal the capital gains tax deduction. HB79 passed the House Business & Employment Committee without recommendation and was tabled in the House Ways & Means Committee.

Note: Ruth Hoffman, director of LAM-NM (and Louise Pocock from the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty) also provided the updates on the SNAP Supplement allocation.

See Full Legislative Update from LAM-NM

From Think New Mexico
Bill to Reimpose Food Tax Stopped In Its Tracks (Senate Bill 281)
Sen. John Arthur Smith, chair of the Senate Finance Committee, introduced this initiative in the second week of the legislative session, and we monitored it closely until the final second. Back in 2013, legislation to reimpose the food tax was sent to the full Senate at 9:00 p.m. the night before the session concluded and we had to scramble to stop it. Fortunately, during this year's session the fierce public opposition to this regressive tax prevailed, and the bill died without receiving a single hearing.

NMVC)spoke out against the initiative to reintroduce the grocery tax. “We are deeply concerned that legislation has been introduced that would increase the cost of buying groceries for New Mexico families," said Dr. Veronica C. García,. "While we agree that the state must raise new revenue in order to adequately fund programs and services that are vital for our families, communities and economy, this would be the worst possible way in which to do that." Read full report from KRWG TV

See Full Legislative Report from Think New Mexico

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