House bill calls for a commission to reduce hunger in New Mexico

The best thing about being a farmer, said Donne Gonzales of Chamisal, is rising every morning to hear the world wake up. The 26-year-old New Mexico native loves the morning songs of the birds and the rush of water in the acequias. To her, these sounds speak to the land’s power to provide food and to […]

House bill calls for a commission to reduce hunger in New Mexico

The best thing about being a farmer, said Donne Gonzales of Chamisal, is rising every morning to hear the world wake up.

The 26-year-old New Mexico native loves the morning songs of the birds and the rush of water in the acequias. To her, these sounds speak to the land’s power to provide food and to a hope that someday no one will lack for food. 

“One in four children in this state goes hungry,” said Gonzales, who also works with a program training new farmers.

“They are not getting the nutritional value, which leads to deficiencies and health issues and weight problems,” she added. “Then they are not healthy, not feeling good, and they cannot be paying attention in our educational system while their tummies are growling.”

Gonzales is throwing her support behind the Food, Hunger and Farm Act, ambitious legislation that calls for the creation of a commission to lay out a plan to reduce hunger in New Mexico and help farmers like her increase their in-state production for residents facing food insecurity.

House Bill 207 would require state agencies to work with community and agricultural leaders on a commission tasked with creating an annual plan to decrease food needs. 

The commission also would develop an emergency food aid plan to address crises like the coronavirus pandemic, find ways to increase state agencies’ food purchases from New Mexico producers, and identify and assess the quality of public and private meal and nutrition assistance programs.

In New Mexico, some 316,000 people struggle with hunger — 1 in 7 people, and, as Gonzales noted, 1 in 4 children, according to the nonprofit Feeding America. 

No one who supports the bill believes it will eradicate hunger.

But, they say, the bill could do something that has not yet been done in New Mexico: create an entity to work on the problem through state law.

“I believe we have one of the best chances of strengthening food security in New Mexico through a process like this bill suggests,” said Pam Roy, executive director of the nonprofit Farm to Table, which works to improve access to locally grown food.

She said pushing cooperation among various agencies — many already engaged in some parts of the bill’s mission — would lead to a better understanding of the barriers to farmers becoming a bigger part of the solution.

The work would include identifying foods sources; setting up necessary infrastructure, such as cold storage facilities for an emergency food bank and produce washing stations; and finding a way to get local farmers’ products to people in need.

The initiative could double the amount of food available to New Mexicans enrolled in the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which gives recipients twice the bang for their buck if they buy local.

When the bill was first introduced in a virtual news conference in February, Rep. Melanie Stansbury, D-Albuquerque, said its sweeping approach was necessary to effectively address New Mexico’s hunger problem.

“We have to fix the entire system,” she said at the time. “From the roots [of the problem] to our food distribution system to the way food is made available in our communities to actually accessing food for individuals and families.”

In a follow-up phone interview, Stansbury, a co-sponsor of the measure, said, “Without having everyone at the table, trying to problem-solve the issue will always be piecemeal.”

She said she believes HB 207 would create a framework for hunger-prevention initiatives that would lead to policy recommendations and budget requests to combat food insecurity. 

Stansbury said she experienced food insecurity at times as she was growing up in Albuquerque.

“The economic reality of New Mexicans is when they are struggling, hard decisions like paying the rent or being able to buy groceries come up a lot — that’s food insecurity,” she said. 

The bill already has undergone some changes since it was introduced, Stansbury said, and more are coming.

She initially included an appropriations request of $750,000 to fund the commission’s first year of expenses. She withdrew that funding request, intending to pull money for the commission from a supplemental appropriations bill recently introduced in the House.

On Tuesday, the House Appropriations and Finance Committee voted to table HB 207 and several other bills requiring funding that could be wrapped into the supplemental appropriations legislation. Rep. Patty Lundstrom, D-Gallup, chairwoman of the committee, said the action doesn’t mean HB 207 has reached its end. 

Stansbury said she is confident the initiative will kick off this year.

Nora Meyers Sackett, a spokeswoman for Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, wrote in an email the bill’s concept is “one we would welcome as it aligns with the multi-agency work the administration has done over the last two years in collaboration with community partners to address hunger in our state.”

But, she added, “whether there is an appropriation made to adequately fund the proposal will be the key.”

Several Republican lawmakers on the House Agriculture and Water Resources Committee, which advanced HB 207 last week, said they like its intent, but they expressed concern that its goals are too broad and vague. 

“I don’t want anybody to be hungry,” said Rep. Candy Spence Ezzell, R-Roswell, a rancher who recalled times when she could not provide milk for her children. “I’ve been down that road.”

But, she said, pulling in so many people from so many different places — the legislation calls for representatives from at least nine state agencies, the Governor’s Office, tribal governments, nonprofit food groups and the New Mexico Livestock Board, among others — can lead to a situation of “too many people” and “not enough action.”

Cathrynn N. Brown, R-Carlsbad, agreed and said she felt most local communities would prefer to tackle the problem themselves without state government interference. 

She called the legislation “the kitchen sink of all kitchen sink bills” because of its sweeping scope. “It’s pointing to more and more government control.”

Lily Irvin Vitela, president and executive director of the public policy group New Mexico First, countered that government agencies working with those in the community struggling with food insecurity would make a difference.

“You fix it [the hunger problem] with political will, with commitment, and with buy-in and an allocation of resources and bringing the brightest and most committed to the table,” she said. 

The fact that New Mexico ranks at or near the top of most national rankings when it comes to food insecurity is not a case of “Whoops, what an accident,” she said, but a “direct result of public policy. We have to do it better.”

Gonzales said she understands that. She’s known too many people in her community who have gone without food at some point, and she believes the commission that would be created under HB 207 would find there are a lot of small farmers in the state who want to make a difference.

“My vision [for the bill] is that it would allow me to grow food for schools, to grow food for children, because it’s important they eat value, that they eat nutrition,” Gonzales said. “It’s important that they eat love.”

We're ad free

That means that we rely on support from readers like you. Help us keep reporting on the most important New Mexico Stories by donating today.

Related

Effort to challenge six laws enacted last year comes to an end

Effort to challenge six laws enacted last year comes to an end

Earlier this month, the New Mexico Supreme Court denied and dismissed the effort to challenge six laws enacted in 2023. The New Mexico Supreme…
Governor to call special session for public safety legislation this summer

Governor to call special session for public safety legislation this summer

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced that she will call the Legislature into a special session this summer to address public safety legislation that did…
Emily’s List endorses seven candidates for Legislature

Emily’s List endorses seven candidates for Legislature

Emily’s List, a nonprofit that supports women candidates and reproductive rights, endorsed seven incumbents facing general election opponents in New Mexico legislative elections. All…
Two PFAS chemicals designated hazardous substances under Superfund law

Two PFAS chemicals designated hazardous substances under Superfund law

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released a final rule Friday to designate two types of PFAS chemicals as hazardous substances. Those two chemicals are perfluorooctanoic…
BLM finalizes controversial public lands rule

BLM finalizes controversial public lands rule

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management finalized its controversial public lands rule on Thursday. This rule is controversial because it allows for conservation leasing…
Haaland signs order protecting sacred lands near Placitas

Haaland signs order protecting sacred lands near Placitas

Interior Secretary Deb Haaland signed an order on Thursday to withdraw more than 4,200 acres of land in Sandoval County near Placitas from mineral…
Amid new graduation requirements, what do high schoolers want to learn?

Amid new graduation requirements, what do high schoolers want to learn?

By Margaret O’Hara, The Santa Fe New Mexican The main things that bring Brayan Chavez to school every day: Seeing, talking to and engaging with…
Special ed teachers hope lawmakers OK pay raises, admin changes

Special ed teachers hope lawmakers OK pay raises, admin changes

By Margaret O’Hara, The Santa Fe New Mexican Brittany Behenna Griffith has a laundry list of adjectives to describe the ideal special education teacher:…
Lawmakers must find consensus on competing education spending plans

Lawmakers must find consensus on competing education spending plans

By Margaret O’Hara, The Santa Fe New Mexican A challenging task awaits New Mexico lawmakers in the next 30 days: Reconciling three very different…
Health workers fear it’s profits before protection as CDC revisits airborne transmission

Health workers fear it’s profits before protection as CDC revisits airborne transmission

Amy Maxmen, KFF Health News Four years after hospitals in New York City overflowed with covid-19 patients, emergency physician Sonya Stokes remains shaken by…
Lujan Grisham, Biden admin announce $10 million in federal funds for tribes, pueblos

Lujan Grisham, Biden admin announce $10 million in federal funds for tribes, pueblos

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced Friday $10 million in funding from the federal American Rescue Plan Act was awarded to six tribal nations and…
Proposal to curb executive powers moves to House Judiciary

Proposal to curb executive powers moves to House Judiciary

The House Government, Elections and Indian Affairs Committee discussed a potential constitutional amendment that seeks to limit the governor’s executive powers. The committee approved…
Abortion fund provider rebrands and holds open house

Abortion fund provider rebrands and holds open house

An abortion fund provider unveiled a rebrand and offered an open house in Las Cruces to celebrate the organization’s new name, mission and values. …
Stansbury introduces judicial ethics bill on U.S. Supreme Court steps

Stansbury introduces judicial ethics bill on U.S. Supreme Court steps

U.S. Rep. Melanie Stansbury announced a bill on Thursday that would, if enacted, establish judicial ethics to the U.S. Supreme Court. The Judicial Ethics…
Politics and abortion, how much will it matter?

Politics and abortion, how much will it matter?

At the national level, abortion is still a high-stakes issue with both major presidential candidates talking about it in their campaigns, but it may…
Abortion fund provider rebrands and holds open house

Abortion fund provider rebrands and holds open house

An abortion fund provider unveiled a rebrand and offered an open house in Las Cruces to celebrate the organization’s new name, mission and values. …
Politics and abortion, how much will it matter?

Politics and abortion, how much will it matter?

At the national level, abortion is still a high-stakes issue with both major presidential candidates talking about it in their campaigns, but it may…
How the AZ Supreme Court decision on abortion impacts New Mexico

How the AZ Supreme Court decision on abortion impacts New Mexico

The Arizona Supreme Court ruled on Tuesday that an 1864 abortion ban is enforceable, throwing another state bordering New Mexico into the situation of…
Effort to challenge six laws enacted last year comes to an end

Effort to challenge six laws enacted last year comes to an end

Earlier this month, the New Mexico Supreme Court denied and dismissed the effort to challenge six laws enacted in 2023. The New Mexico Supreme…
Vasquez calls out Republicans for ‘inaction’ on border policy

Vasquez calls out Republicans for ‘inaction’ on border policy

U.S. Rep. Gabriel “Gabe” Vasquez, a Democrat who represents the state’s 2nd Congressional District along the U.S.-Mexico border, cosponsored a resolution on Monday calling…
Politics and abortion, how much will it matter?

Politics and abortion, how much will it matter?

At the national level, abortion is still a high-stakes issue with both major presidential candidates talking about it in their campaigns, but it may…
Two PFAS chemicals designated hazardous substances under Superfund law

Two PFAS chemicals designated hazardous substances under Superfund law

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released a final rule Friday to designate two types of PFAS chemicals as hazardous substances. Those two chemicals are perfluorooctanoic…
New Mexico Voices for Children has new leadership

New Mexico Voices for Children has new leadership

New Mexico Voices for Children, an organization that focuses on tax policy and how it impacts children in poverty, has new leadership. Gabrielle Uballez…
Abortion fund provider rebrands and holds open house

Abortion fund provider rebrands and holds open house

An abortion fund provider unveiled a rebrand and offered an open house in Las Cruces to celebrate the organization’s new name, mission and values. …

GET INVOLVED

© 2023 New Mexico Political Report