New Mexico to restart process for imposing work requirements on food stamp recipients

Gov. Susana Martinez's administration announced Wednesday that it will redo a plan for imposing work requirements on low-income New Mexicans to qualify for food stamps.

Human Services spokesman Matt Kennicott said the state won't proceed with regulations it had hoped to implement this month. Instead, the administration will restart the regulatory process but propose the same work-related changes that have been challenged in court.

A state district judge last week temporarily blocked the Human Services Department from implementing new regulations affecting about 80,000 food stamp recipients.

The state was sued by social services advocates who contended that the agency didn't follow proper procedures for adopting regulations to the food stamp program.

"We hope that this will lead to increased transparency and accountability from the New Mexico Human Services Department, especially when they are making ill-considered changes to our state's most effective program for fighting hunger," Gail Evans, legal director from the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty, said of the department's decision.

Kennicott said the state hoped to avoid a potentially costly legal fight by starting over on the food stamp changes. That means issuing a new public notice of its regulatory proposals and holding a hearing for comment from New Mexicans before adopting new regulations governing eligibility for food stamps.

He emphasized that the administration wasn't retreating from its plan to impose work-related requirements.

"Requiring those receiving public assistance to look for work, engage in job training, or obtain employment is common sense. We are trying to lift New Mexicans out of poverty," Kennicott said in a statement.

One planned change would have required low-income parents and other caregivers of children age 6 and older to search for a job or take other steps, such as participating in community service, to obtain food stamps.

About 455,000 New Mexicans receive food stamps, which provide a maximum monthly benefit of $194 for an individual and $649 for a family of four.