Senate passes food stamp supplement, unemployment bill

By Matthew Reichbach

The state Senate moved on from redistricting and passed a bill to shore up the unemployment fund as well as the food stamp supplement. Both measures cleared the Senate with significant support, though a competing Republican measure on the unemployment took up much of the time spent debating the legislation.

Republicans introduced a floor substitute that nearly all Democrats said was not a good policy for the state.

The substitute brought by Sen. Steven Neville (R-Aztec) would have transferred money from the general fund to shore up the unemployment fund. Democrats said that this was borrowing from the general fund, which is not allowed by law.

Sen. John Arthur Smith (D-Deming), the sponsor of the original bill, objected to the substitute because it would put the state in debt. Smith also said that the state has never borrowed from the general fund.

Sen. Jerry Ortiz y Pino (D-Albuquerque) said that borrowing money from the general fund was a “slippery slope” and Sen. Tim Keller (D-Albuquerque) said if this was allowed then he was going to “run a lot of bills like this.”

Neville defended his substitute, saying it was constitutional and necessary.

“This is not about greed or being selfish or taking money from schoolkids,” Neville said. Neville also said that a bill that borrowed from the state’s tobacco fund set the precedent for his substitute.

This bill is necessary during the special session because a similar bill that passed both chambers during the regular session was partially vetoed by Gov. Susana Martinez. The issue went to the state Supreme Court and the Supreme Court said that the legislature and the governor should attempt to find a solution before the court ruled.

The bill itself passed the Senate with only three dissenting votes.

The bill to fund the food stamp supplement passed unanimously.

House passes food stamp supplement unanimously

By Matthew Reichbach

The House of Representatives passed a bill unanimously that would take advantage of federal funds to shore up food stamp benefits as well as putting the rest of the federal stimulus funds towards Medicaid before the money reverts back to the federal government. The bill would provide $450,000 in funding for food stamp additions for elderly and disabled New Mexicans.

Rep. Dennis Roch (R-Tucumcari) said that his legislation, HB 18, needed to pass soon because the money would revert back to the federal government at the end of September.

“This cannot wait until January,” Roch told the House Appropriations and Finance Committee earlier Friday. “It absolutely cannot.”

The non-controversial bill cleared two committees before the House passed the legislation on Friday.

In addition to making sure that over $6 million in Medicaid funding does not revert to the federal government, the supplement makes sure that elderly and disabled New Mexicans receive at least $25 in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) funding, even if the amount of federal funding dips down to $16.

This will fund the program through the next three quarters.

Some of the money in the fund could be general funds that were in there to match with the federal funds before it reverted back to the federal government, Roch said on the House floor.

House Majority Leader Ken Martinez (D-Grants) expressed concern over using one-time money, in this case federal stimulus funds, to cover a recurring expense.

Gov. Susana Martinez used federal stimulus funds to keep the program going in June. Otherwise, the program was set to end by July 1.

The bill now heads to the Senate, where it must pass before Martinez can sign the legislation.

Odds and Ends

The House and Senate also both passed Public Education Committee redistricting legislation. The committee has the power over approving charter schools.