New Mexico continues to rank at the bottom in the annual Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Kids COUNT data book, but the state has seen considerable improvement in many areas over the last 10 years, Amber Wallin, executive director of New Mexico Voices for Children, said. New Mexico placed last in the 2023 annual ranking that comes out every summer from the nonprofit organization Annie E. Casey Foundation. But Wallin said that the state is outpacing the nation in its overall progress and in several individual categories. She said that as the state has improved, so have other states in individual categories and that states such as Vermont or Pennsylvania have “very different challenges than we do.”
Two other problems hamper New Mexico’s rankings. One is that the data comes from 2021, in which COVID-19 pandemic challenges still impacted families and many legislative policies that are likely to improve the rankings had not been put into place yet.
The results from the 2022 Kids Count Data Book, released this week by the nonprofit New Mexico Voices for Children, are mixed, the group’s executive director, Amber Wallin, said. NMVC releases the Kids Count Data Book annually at the start of the Legislative session to provide policy makers with information and statistics on how New Mexico’s children and families are doing on four fronts: educationally, economically, health and family and community. Data gathering for the data book was interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic and that problem continues, with some data reflecting pre-pandemic conditions, Wallin said during a press conference this week. Some of the data reflects averages from the years 2016 to 2020, she said. One of the most striking deficits the 2022 data book reveals is child hunger.
Constitutional Amendment 1, which will allow an increase from the Permanent Land Grant Fund distribution by 1.25 percent, won by a large margin. As of 9:45 p.m., the votes in favor were 349,579 to 146,969 opposed. Those in favor carried the vote by 70 percent. Angie Poss, spokesperson for Vote Yes for Kids! Constitutional Amendment 1, a group that has been working to convince voters to vote in favor of the amendment, said by phone that the celebration at Hotel Andaluz in downtown Albuquerque, after a decade-long fight, was joyous.
U.S. Census data released on Tuesday indicated national improvements in income, poverty and health insurance for families across the U.S.
New Mexico Voices for Children, a nonprofit that advocates for legislative policies that benefit children, believe the new census data showing some initial improvements could positively impact New Mexico’s child well-being that were not reflected in the 2022 National KIDS COUNT Data Book. The recent 2022 Data Book, which the Annie E. Casey Foundation released in August, ranked New Mexico at 50th for child well-being. Emily Wildau, research and policy analyst for NMVC, said that the census information released on Tuesday does not drill down into state-level data but more census data at the state level will be released later this week.
But, she said, the new data includes supplemental income benefits, such as SNAP [Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program], TANF [Temporary Assistance for Needy Families] and tax credits. “Adding in these income supplemental benefits gives a nuanced look,” she said. Wildau said the overall drop in poverty for children at the national level is, “truly astonishing.”
“The biggest thing we see is the overall rate of poverty for kids under 18 dropped from 9.2 percent [in 2020] to 7.8 percent [in 2021],” she said.
New Mexico ranks 50th in the nation for child well-being for 2022, according to the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s annual KIDS COUNT Data Book. The KIDS COUNT Data Book of 2021 ranked New Mexico 49th in the nation for child wellbeing. But despite the drop in ranking, Amber Wallin, executive director for New Mexico Voices for Children, said the state’s rankings from 2021 to 2022 are “not comparable.” Some of the data for the 2022 data book is from 2019 and some of it is from 2020, the year COVID-19 pandemic began. “What this data reflects is mostly pre-pandemic conditions,” Wallin told NM Political Report. “It’s reflective of the times before all the big policy changes in New Mexico. This data doesn’t capture all the changes we’ve seen in recent years.”
Wallin cited the state’s expansion of early childcare assistance to include families who earn up to 350 percent above the federal poverty level and child tax credits passed in 2021 as two ways in which the state has implemented change that will likely be reflected back in the data when the 2023 KIDS COUNT Data book is released.
The Inflation Reduction Act, a bill that narrowly passed the U.S. Senate over the weekend, does not extend the federal Child Tax Credit. The federal Child Tax Credit, which became available to qualifying families through the American Rescue Plan Act, provided up to $3,000 per child per year for families with children under the age of 6. For families with children ages 6 to 16, the tax credit available was $3,600 per child per year. The funds could also be accessed monthly, instead of as a lump sum. Amber Wallin, executive director of New Mexico Voices for Children, said the policy lifted over 30,000 New Mexico children over the poverty line.
The advocacy group New Mexico Voices for Children released the 2021 Kids Count Data Book on Wednesday and said that, according to the data, New Mexico saw 20,000 additional children enrolled in Medicaid in 2021. Emily Wildau, the New Mexico Kids Count Data Book coordinator, said that data was one of the biggest surprises for her to come out of the annual assessment of how New Mexico is doing in terms of how children are doing. “That was one of the biggest things that really stuck out,” Wildau said. Every year NMVC releases the Kids Count Data Book that assesses how New Mexico children are faring. Wildau said that this year, because of some data collection challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic, some of the data is based on earlier surveys and resources.
Amber Wallin has replaced James Jimenez as Executive Director of New Mexico Voices for Children, a nonprofit children’s advocacy and research organization. NMVC announced the change this week. Jimenez retired at the first of the year but will continue to serve as executive director for New Mexico Pediatric Society, a role he acquired when the two organizations formed an alliance in 2017. He will also direct the NMVC Action Fund. Wallin, who began working for NMVC on tax policy issues about ten years ago, said that she intends to continue the work that is the core mission of the organization – advocating for policy that creates opportunities for children and families.
New Mexico Voices for Children held its annual conference Thursday and put a special emphasis on the need to support women of color. The nonprofit, which advocates for children and family-friendly policy, provides the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Kids COUNT data book each year. The data book, which gives data from recent years to show things such how New Mexico ranks in child wellbeing comparative to other states, came out earlier this year. But during the conference, Amber Wallin, deputy director of NMVFC, provided some recent data on how the pandemic is affecting children in New Mexico. Wallin said that as of September of this year, 21 percent of New Mexico parents were unsure of how to pay the rent; 31 percent of New Mexico households with children are not eating enough; 38 percent of New Mexico households with children had difficulty paying for basic household expenses; and 40 percent of New Mexico parents with children under 5 faced childcare disruptions in the month of August because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Without relief aid from the federal and state government, immigrant families could suffer homelessness and hunger. Amber Wallin, NM Voices for Children’s deputy director, said that without any aid during the public health emergency and economic crisis, the crisis will worsen for immigrant families, leading to homelessness and hunger. That could also mean there will be children who live in immigrant or mixed-status homes who won’t be prepared to learn due to hunger in the coming school year. Some immigrant-owned businesses will be unable to restart, leading to more job losses, she said. “We had huge challenges already.