New Mexico: Food stamp recipients must work 20 hours per week

New Mexico wants to restore regulations that would require childless adults to work at least 20 hours a week to qualify for food stamps. The New Mexico food stamp work requirement was suspended in 2009 because of the national recession. 

By , Associated Press

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    New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez speaks during a news conference in Albuquerque, N.M. in April. Martinez's administration wants to re-introduce a requirement for childless adults to work at least 20 hours a week in order to receive food stamps.
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Gov. Susana Martinez's administration proposes to re-impose and broaden work-related requirements on low-income New Mexicans to qualify for food stamps.

Starting in October, the state plans to restore a 20-hour-a-week work requirement for an estimated 26,600 childless adults to get food stamps. The mandate was suspended in 2009 because of the national recession. On-the-job training and community service also can help meet the work mandate.

The administration also proposes to implement a new requirement for low-income parents and other caregivers of children age 6 and older. Adults would have to search for a job or participate in community service to obtain the food assistance.

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Food stamp-eligible parents or other household members caring for a child — regardless of the child's age — have been exempt from job search requirements. Pregnant women and some others, including those who are considered physically or mentally unable to work, will continue to be exempt.

About 420,000 New Mexicans receive food stamps averaging $265 a month. Children represent about 46 percent of those receiving assistance.

The Human Services Department says it's uncertain how many people would be affected by the proposed job search changes.

But social services advocates worry the work requirements will knock poor people off of food stamps. They also contend the proposed requirements are a bad idea when New Mexico has been losing jobs recently and the economy remains weak.

"If we had a glut of jobs in this state it would be one thing to consider making this mandatory, but that's just not the case," said Louise Pocock, a lawyer with the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty.

Human Services spokesman Matt Kennicott said the 2009 waiver of the work requirement "was only temporary and was never intended to stay indefinitely."

"These are the same broad-based job search requirements that have existed for years in most public assistance programs throughoutNew Mexico," said Kennicott.

There are work requirements for people in the state's welfare program, he said.

The department also proposes to broaden who must search for a job to include 16- and 17-year-olds if they're not attending school or attending a training program and adults from ages 51 to 59.

The state restored the job search requirement last year for low-income adults ages 18 to 50, but continued to exempt those caring for children. The number of food stamp recipients has dropped by about 20,000 since last summer when the changes were approved, according to the agency's latest enrollment figures through February.

The job search requirement also was suspended during the recession.

Once the new requirements are implemented, Kennicott said, about 59,000 food stamp recipients potentially will be subject to the job search requirement. That figure includes those were covered by it last year.

The department has scheduled an Aug. 29 hearing in Santa Fe to receive public comment on proposed rule changes.

People qualify for food stamps — what the federal government calls the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program — based on their income.

An individual can earn up to about $1,580 a month — just under $19,000 a year — and a family of four is eligible with income of up to $3,239 a month or not quite $38,900 a year.

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