In the latest round of the ongoing fight about food stamps, a lawsuit filed Wednesday, Jan. 27, aims to halt new work requirements.
New Mexico has the highest unemployment rate in the country and isn’t required under federal rules to hurry people off food assistance. But the state imposed a three-month time limit anyway for some adults who work less than halftime. That’s according to Sovereign Hager, a lawyer with the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty.
"This is a time when the federal food assistance program is really critical for people in New Mexico," she said. The center asked the court to quickly pause the restrictions that went into effect on Jan. 1 and filed a lawsuit on the grounds that food stamp recipients weren’t notified properly, program workers weren’t trained well, and the rules violate federal law.
"It’s really just a mess in terms of implementing these new requirements," Hager said. "And we think that the Human Services Department shouldn’t take any action to limit food assistance in this really tough environment."
HSD disagrees with the allegations in the lawsuit. Spokesperson Kyler Nerison said the new rules help people develop job skills and become self-sufficient.
"These are the same broad-based work or job search requirements that have existed for years in most New Mexico public assistance programs," he said. "These requirements are bipartisan—they were signed into law by President Bill Clinton." He added that the department will help people continue to find work and job training.
The court is expected to rule on temporarily pausing those work requirements in the coming month.