Researchers at New Mexico’s two largest public universities are teaming up to analyze food insecurity during the COVID-19 pandemic.

New Mexico State University and the University of New Mexico are asking residents over the age of 18 to complete a survey about access to and affordability of food.

“Our goal is [to] gather a representative sample of the state to figure out how needs related to food access have changed during the pandemic,” said Stephanie Rogus, an assistant professor of family and consumer sciences at New Mexico State who studies food assistance programs.

“We hope to pull something together describing what trends we’re seeing in the state in terms of food security and access.”

The survey, which is available in English and Spanish and will be open for a month, asks questions about the types of stores New Mexicans have bought food from both during the past 12 months and since March 11.

According to 2017 census data, 15.5 percent of New Mexico residents are food insecure — defined as living in homes without consistent access to adequate food — compared to 12.7 percent of the country. The rate is worse for kids: 24 percent of all children in New Mexico are food insecure.

“We don’t know what the responses will look like,” Rogus said. “But we know there’s been lots of changes to food access during the pandemic.

Legislators say that even without specifics, it’s clear the pandemic is exacerbating preexisting food-insecurity issues in New Mexico.

Rep. Willie Madrid, D-Chaparral, a co-sponsor of House Bill 10, which was signed into law in March and eliminates copays of 30 cents or 40 cents per meal for around 12,500 public school students who qualify for reduced-price but not free school meals, said he is interested in legislation to fund food banks and expand free meals to college students.

“We know hunger doesn’t stop when you graduate high school,” said Madrid, an education assistant in Gadsden Independent Schools.

“As we continue to reach new stages of this pandemic, all these issues of food insecurity are going to start surfacing more and more. It’s impacting students, it’s impacting jobs, and it’s impacting homes.”

Madrid said he isn’t going to push any specific legislation related to food insecurity during the special session next month, as such bills will have to wait until the 2021 session.

Democratic Rep. Melanie Stansbury of Albuquerque, the other co-sponsor of House Bill 10, said that although food banks are strained, relief most likely will come from the federal government.

“Food banks are blowing through their annual budgets in a month,” Stansbury said. “Right now we’re trying to see how much of emergency need can be met by federal assistance.

“If there is a gap, then we will look at whether or not there will be an opportunity to seek state funding.”

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