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Food stamp users hit record in ’08

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By Ralph Damiani

Food stamp use has surged statewide to an all-time high in 2008. Another sign that the nation’s economic turmoil is being felt here, the Associated Press reports.

In December, the number on food stamps jumped by more than 6,000. State data show that 268,400 people received food stamps in December, an annual increase of 15.3 percent.

That compares with 232,696 recipients statewide in December 2007.

This goes hand in hand with the report from the Department of Workforce Solutions that New Mexico’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate was 4.9 percent in December, up from 4.3 percent in November. 

The national unemployment rate increased to 7.2 percent.

Now, more than 13 percent of the state’s population is receiving food stamps. McKinley County has the largest percentage of residents on food stamps at 25 percent.

It’s followed by Torrance County with 22.7 percent and Socorro County with 20 percent.

Luna, San Miguel, Dona Ana, Cibola, Quay, Rio Arriba and Valencia counties round out the 10 counties with the highest percentage of residents receiving food stamps, the AP reported.

Here in Los Alamos, we had the smallest percentage in the state with only 0.7 percent of the population on stamps.

Nationwide, the number of food stamp recipients increased by 14.2 percent in the fiscal year that ended in October.

“I think as long as the economy continues to be difficult, we will see an increase in people applying for supports like food stamps,” Patricia Anders, a staff attorney for the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty, told the AP.

The federally funded program provided $29 million to New Mexico families in December. Recipients use debit-like cards to buy food at grocery stores.

Despite the rapid growth, many eligible families do not apply for food stamps, sometimes because they do not realize they are eligible, Anders said.

In 2006, a U.S. Department of Agriculture report found that about 30 percent of eligible families in New Mexico do not receive food stamps.

Katie Falls, deputy secretary of the state Human Services Department, said the agency is trying to increase enrollment and is running public service announcements encouraging people to apply.

It also has increased the number of caseworkers and is seeking $6 million in state funds to upgrade an outdated computer system that processes applications.

And by the way, Los Alamos County also has the lowest unemployment rate in the state at 2.4 percent.

However, that is up from 1.9 percent last year.

New law proposed

In a bill introduced in the Legislature by Senate Minority Whip Bill Payne of Albuquerque, officials who are found guilty of public corruption while in office would receive a fine in addition to their basic sentence - they would lose their pension,

What? Are we being told that they now keep their pensions? That an official who commits a felony on the public job gets paid their pension?

Are you kidding us?

“In essence,” Sen. Payne said, “they would lose their salaries and lose their benefits like pensions if they are felons.”

In essence? Really?

“We need to hit them where they hurt,” he said. “Public officials who violate the public trust while receiving a salary from taxpayers should receive a greater punishment than just the basic sentence. Being fined the amount of their salary and benefits might make these corrupt officials think twice about violating corruption laws.”

You think?

Under SB 141, a new section of the Criminal Sentencing Act would be created involving enhanced sentences for public officials.

 If an elected official is guilty of a felony in connection with the offender’s holding an elected office, the basic sentence may be increased by an additional fine that could be as much as the value of the salary and fringe benefits paid to the offender.

And this is not done now? Sometimes, too much is just too much.