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Working poor criticize food stamp stigma

Created: 08/06/2014 9:31 PM
By: Ryan Luby, KOB Eyewitness News 4

They may hold low-paying jobs with few hours. They may be searching for more work. They may make enough to pay some of their bills. But New Mexico's working poor often don't have enough to put food on the table.

As the state prepares to strengthen requirements for able-bodied food stamp recipients in October, at least one woman fears the system is not ready.

"I just think it's going to turn ugly, you know," Chynna Santiago said. "I mean, I don't know if it's going to be violent, but I think it's not going to be good."

The 26-year-old Albuquerque woman has not only been fighting to find reliable part-time jobs, but also fought New Mexico's Human Services Department. It kicked her out of the food stamp program in April.

"So, from April and May -- yeah, I never got my food stamps," Santiago said.

The department said it rightfully disqualified her because she failed to enter an employment training program.  Under the current requirements, food stamp recipients who work less than 20 hours must attend those types of programs. In Santiago's case, she was only working 15 hours.

Even though the department said it documented its numerous attempts to reach Santiago about the training, she said no one ever contacted her. She said she was unaware of the specific requirements.

Once New Mexico's Center on Law and Poverty prepared to litigate her case, the Human Services Department quickly reinstated her benefits. Santiago and her attorney claimed the records the department produced as evidence against her were fabricated.

"I'm a little aggravated to the point that you have to get your lawyer involved just for them to do what's right," Santiago said.

She's currently looking for another job -- part-time or full-time -- after a surgery forced her to quit her last one.

"I'm not a bum," Santiago said.

She hopes food stamp critics realize she's not lazy. She said the job search for her has been tough and that the food stamp benefits are a last resort.

"Bottomline, God didn't put me on this Earth to rely on the government to take care of me," Santiago said tearfully. "You know, my whole family -- we'd never done food stamps. I'm not saying food stamps are bad, but sometimes when you are just down on your luck, and you have nothing else going for you ... it hurts."

The Human Services Department says mistakes do happen, especially when they provide food stamps to 400,000 New Mexicans. They say if you have complaints for them, call the secretary's office directly.

For more information on how to contact the Human Service Department visit: http://www.hsd.state.nm.us/Contact_Us.aspx


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