By Christina Calloway
PNT senior writer
Crystal Irwin said being unemployed and having three mouths to feed other than her own is an unimaginable struggle.
The 25-year-old single mother said feeding her children is an obvious priority and is often looking for jobs to make those ends meet. But to survive, she said she has to use food stamps.
“It was hard because I was going day-to-day figuring out what I was going to eat and feed my kids,” Irwin said. “It’s hard for me to provide for them when I didn’t have it.”
Irwin is one of the 3,473 people who receive food stamps in Roosevelt County, about 17 percent of the population, according to the state’s department of Health and Human Services.
About 19 percent of Curry County’s near 50,000 population also receive food stamps.
It’s one federal program that is at risk of taking cuts as House Republicans prepare a bill to cut the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, known as SNAP, by as much as 5 percent.
U.S. Congressman Steve Pearce, R-N.M., said the 5 percent cut to the $80 billion-a-year program is aimed at correcting fraud and the abuse within the program. Pearce said he does support the reform but also understands the need for the program.
“SNAP funding is vital for struggling New Mexican families and children, which is why I voted to reauthorize SNAP funding earlier this year and have called on my colleagues to take action for this important program,” Pearce said. “The fraud and abuse currently in the system is criminal, causing a good program to be unreliable. We must act now to find the solutions and reforms needed to provide those in the hardest of times with the hand up that SNAP can provide.”
A few of the House Republicans who helped design the bill said the legislation would find the savings by tightening eligibility standards and imposing new work requirements. Some of those changes would likely try to reduce the role by requiring drug testing and barring convicted murderers, rapists and pedophiles from receiving food stamps.
Irwin said she agrees with a few of the measures Republicans plan to use to cut the program including the drug testing portion. Others concern her.
“I didn’t have the worries or the stress that (her children) wouldn’t eat because I knew they’d eat once I got them,” said Irwin about food stamps.
She said when her husband, who was also the main provider for her family, left them in March, she was working as a store clerk. Things took a turn for the worse when she had to quit to care for her ailing father.
“If I had a job I would feel better about myself to have money coming in to give my kids food, but even with a part-time job, it wouldn’t be enough,” Irwin said.
She hopes while she tries to get back on her feet that any of the changes made to the program won’t affect how she is able to feed her children.