1 in 5 New Mexicans gets government help for food

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — One in five New Mexicans now receives government help to buy food.

The number of people enrolled in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, soared as the nation's economy began sinking a couple of years ago, with more than 400,000 New Mexico residents now receiving the benefits, the Albuquerque Journal Monday reported in a copyright story.

SNAP benefits, once known as food stamps, are a safety net for people who have fallen on tough times.

The program is based on income. A family of four, for example, can make up to $3,032 a month and qualify.

New Mexico figures show the average SNAP beneficiary in March received $296.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture, which administers the program, last year approved a New Mexico plan that allows people who make up to 165 percent of the federal poverty level to enroll in SNAP. The previous level was 130 percent.

The USDA acted after the state asked it to make it easier to get benefits, said state Human Services Department spokeswoman Betina Gonzales McCracken.

"Compared to other states, our SNAP participation is in the top four or top five," McCracken said. "But we know that there are still 33 percent (of eligible) families that qualify for the program who aren't enrolled."

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