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.

Martinez to fund food stamp extension with stimulus funds

Gov. Susana Martinez announced Monday that she was reversing a plan that would have slashed a food stamp extension that aids low income, elderly and disabled residents. The cuts were not in the budget that the Legislature passed and Martinez signed.

Martinez announced that the extension would be funded by the use of discretionary stimulus funds from the federal government. The funds will extend the program through September.

Martinez blamed the state legislature for the funds not being extended.

“Not only did our executive budget recommend an additional $10 million in Medicaid funding, but we aimed to fully fund the supplemental food stamp program for the next fiscal year as well,” Martinez said in a statement. “Though the Legislature chose to advance different priorities, I’m glad that we will be able to extend the food stamp program through September and discuss ways for it to be funded in the future.”

The money from the federal government must be spent by September or the money is taken away. Martinez previously eliminated $2.6 million in federal funding that she did not believe would be spent in time. That was money allocated by former Gov. Bill Richardson and will go towards, along with the food stamp extension, gas for state police.

The extension will continue the program where the minimum amount of food stamp benefits for elderly and disabled residents is $25 per month. The federal minimum is $16 per month, so the state covers the $9 extra per month in New Mexico.

Martinez also said that her line-item vetoes of the budget have cleared enough money to fund the program with state funds going forward. However, some of her line item vetoes are the subject of a lawsuit that seems destined for a date with the state Supreme Court. In one case, Martinez line item vetoed a single digit, turning a $150,000 appropriation to the New Mexico Mortgage Finance Authority into a $50,000 appropriation. Lawmakers contend this oversteps her constitutional authority as governor.

Martinez has not had much luck with the state’s high court, losing three rulings including one on slashing regulations and another on her decisions involving the state labor board. The state ruled unanimously that Martinez exceeded her authority in removing two members of the Public Employee Labor Relations Board.

Public employee unions have been the target of Republican governors throughout the nation, most notably in Wisconsin and Ohio.

Martinez hinted that the issue of funding this program could come during the special session for redistricting that will be held in the fall. Martinez has already said that the controversial issue of letting those in the country illegal get drivers licenses will be on the call for the special session.