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Nonprofit: Farm Bill would hurt southern NM

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The proposed Agriculture and Nutrition Act of 2018 has garnered criticism by the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty, which states that if it is successfully passed, it would damage southern New Mexico’s economy.

The act, also regarded as the 2018 Farm Bill, is described as an omnibus, multi-year law that governs an array of agricultural and food programs, according to the Federation of American Scientists.

More specifically, the proposed bill would have a harmful impact on southern New Mexico’s Congressional District 2, Maria Archuleta, of the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty, said.

“The district is in an agricultural and rural part of the state where almost one in four people participate in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps, to buy groceries and healthy food,” Archuleta said in a press release. “Rep. Steve Pearce has voiced his support for the proposed SNAP cuts in the Farm Bill, which would cut funding for SNAP by $20 billion over the next ten years by cutting eligibility for families, penalizing people looking for work, and other changes.”

The nonprofit spoke with George Lujan, executive director of SouthWest Organizing Project, who said the community needs a farm bill that “actually supports” farmers and their shared work to eliminate hunger.

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“Southern New Mexico is one of the most prolific agricultural regions in the country where we grow many of our most popular traditional foods,” Lujan said. “There’s no reason for a high instance of hunger in an area where food has such deep cultural and historical roots. We need to make sure our policy decisions are in line with our shared belief that everyone has enough to eat in our community.”

New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty said SNAP has played a vital role in helping southern New Mexicans afford a basic diet.

“At least 162,393 New Mexicans in Pearce’s district participate in SNAP,” Archuleta stated. “Most of these families include children and nearly a third include senior citizens. Over half of the SNAP participants in District 2 are in working families.”

The nonprofit also spoke with Mag Strittmatter, president and CEO of Roadrunner Food Bank in Albuquerque.

“Roadrunner Food Bank is deeply concerned about the House Agriculture Committee’s Farm Bill legislation,” Strittmatter said. “The bill’s severe cuts to the SNAP program will lengthen the lines at our pantries, soup kitchens, and other sites that serve hungry people.

“Deep cuts to SNAP will negatively impact the people we serve and increase hunger in our community. We want to see a strong Farm Bill that protects the hungry as well as struggling farmers and rural communities, but this bill as drafted would only worsen hunger and make it harder for children, seniors and families to access food assistance.”

Archuleta later states that if the Farm Bill passes, SNAP eligibility would be cut by reducing the net income limits from 165 percent to 130 percent of the Federal Poverty Level and removing any options for New Mexico to increase the eligibility level.

“It would also add bureaucratic requirements removed decades ago like requiring New Mexicans to provide their utility bill to their local Income Support Division office,” Archuleta said.

Krysten Aguilar, director of operations and policy advocacy at La Semilla Food Center in Doña Ana County said federal Nutrition programs like SNAP account for 80 percent of the Farm Bill.

“This Congress is seeking to slash it by $20 billion,” Aguilar said. “The local impact would be devastating. In Dona Ana County alone, over 60,000 of our neighbors are recipients of SNAP benefits — this bill targets our most vulnerable families and children and attacks their ability to eat.

“SNAP benefits generate $1.70 of economic activity for every federal $1 spent, so not only is the program working to feed people, it is creating jobs and stimulating our local economy. This bill is cruel, senseless, and economically unsound.”

The nonprofit criticized further, stating the bill would do nothing to increase employment or wages.

“We know SNAP works in New Mexico. Cutting it would take food away from people struggling to make ends meet, and from children and working people,” said William Townley, an attorney at the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty. “It is completely backward to take food away from people who are struggling to find work or are unable to work. Instead, Congress should work together on legislation that provides meaningful job training and jobs with wages families can actually live on.”