- Associated Press - Monday, October 27, 2014

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) - Social services advocates filed a lawsuit Monday to stop Gov. Susana Martinez’s administration from imposing work-related requirements on low-income New Mexicans to qualify for food stamps.

The New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty, the Southwest Organizing Project and several food stamps recipients sued the Human Services Department in state district court in Santa Fe.

Starting next month, the state plans to phase in requirements that an estimated 26,000 childless adults work in order to receive food stamps and that about 60,000 low-income adults - as well as 16- and 17-year-olds if they’re not attending schools - must search for a job, participate in community service or take part in job training programs to qualify for assistance.

The lawsuit said the department failed to follow proper procedures for adopting the planned regulation changes, which “will result in the loss of food assistance for tens of thousands of adults and a reduction in food assistance for other household members, including many children in New Mexico.”

Human Services spokesman Matt Kennicott called the lawsuit “baseless” and said the state’s goal “is to help more New Mexicans become self-sufficient, earn job training skills and find employment.”

The state suspended a 20-hour-a-week work requirement for childless adults in 2009 because of the national recession. That mandate is being implemented again. On-the-job training and community service also can help meet it.

The department restored a job search requirement last year for some low-income adults and the latest changes will broaden who’s subject to that.

About 455,000 New Mexicans receive food stamps, which provide a maximum monthly benefit of $194 for an individual and $649 for a family of four.

The state plans to implement the work-related requirements on Nov. 1 in Bernalillo, Los Alamos, Rio Arriba, Sandoval, Santa Fe and Valencia counties, and 22 other counties next year.

Food stamp recipients in the Navajo Nation and some other Indian tribes and pueblos as well as five counties with high unemployment - Luna, Mora, McKinley, Guadalupe and Taos counties - will be exempted from some of the requirements.

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