State With High Unemployment Rate Wants To Link Food Stamps To Work

| by Sheena Vasani
People holding up sign that reads 'Apply for Benefits Here'People holding up sign that reads 'Apply for Benefits Here'

New Mexico's government wants to make receiving food stamps contingent upon the monthly completion of 80 community service hours or job training.

The rule proposed would go into effect on Oct. 1, 2016, the Santa Fe New Mexican reports. It would specifically require anybody between the ages of 16 to 59 -- as well as parents of children older than 12 -- to participate in the Human Service Department’s employment and training program to receive food aid.

The work requirement is actually a reinstatement of a 1996 federal law, but this law was waived during the economic recession. Now that the economy is faring better, however, many states are reinstating the law.

Jason Riggs, of Roadrunner Food Bank, said these requirements are unfair to people trying to recover from the recession, KOAT Albuquerque reports.

"We are basically here to express a note of caution in making these changes," he told the news station. "Any changes of work requirements can make things more difficult for hungry New Mexicans."

In addition, Riggs worries these extra requirements will frighten the needy away from applying, leaving them to struggle. 

"We don't want it to be any more difficult to reach tools that would help," he said.

For the past year, Republican Gov. Susana Martinez of New Mexico has been trying to implement these federal work requirements for food benefits, which restrict people to three months of food stamps unless they are working or training for 20 hours a week.

"Twenty hours a week is not too much to ask for, for us giving the hand out for you to find that job," Martinez said. "It really isn't asking that much for you to do."

However, many disagree, citing New Mexico's unemployment rate, which is higher than the national average. In fact, more people in the state are looking for jobs than there are available.

“There’s reason to worry that Martinez is moving ahead before her state’s job market can support the change,” Alan Pyke of Think Progress wrote.

"While just 8 percent of the state’s population of nearly 2.1 million live in those counties, that’s still over 170,000 people who will face the renewed work requirements despite facing very long odds of being able to find a job," he added.

Sources: Santa Fe New MexicanKOAT AlburquerqueThink Progress / Photo Credit: Human Services Department, Steve Terrell/Flickr