State workers would see a drop in their pay raises for fiscal year 2021 and spending for most agencies would be cut significantly under the draft budget overhaul lawmakers began debating Wednesday. Whittling a record $7.6 billion budget to $7.34 billion — and filling wide spending gaps with cash reserves, pandemic-related aid from the federal government and other measures — is no small task for the New Mexico Legislature as it convenes Thursday for a special session to address a steep decline in projected revenues. Members of the state House and Senate finance committees met Wednesday to review the plan, which would slash higher education spending by 6 percent — the biggest cut for any single agency — and reduce the 4 percent pay raises for state workers, approved earlier this year, to 1.5 percent for those who earn less than $40,000 a year and 0.5 percent for higher earners. Funding for the new Early Childhood Education and Care Department, set to take over all services for young children July 1, would be cut by $3.3 million; the spaceport would lose $600,000; and $17 million would be slashed from the Medicaid program. Lawmakers, however, hope to shift money from the Tobacco Settlement Permanent Fund to fill the Medicaid gap.
The state announced that uninsured childcare workers who test positive for COVID-19 will be able to enroll in a state insurance plan during the public health emergency. Uninsured early childcare workers and their families will be able to enroll in New Mexico Medical Insurance Pool (NMMIP), the state’s high-risk pool, during the public health emergency if they or their family members test positive to COVID-19, a type of coronavirus. The state will pay the premiums, according to the statement. Under emergency rules issued by the Superintendent of Insurance, deductibles and copayments are also waived for treatment of COVID-19, influenza and pneumonia through NMMIP. This new rule will apply to all childcare workers and their immediate family members who test positive regardless of income or immigration status, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said in the statement.
The state’s message that childcare centers in New Mexico should remain open while everyone else is encouraged to stay home is the wrong message, say some early childcare educators. The state has asked early childcare centers to stay open while public schools are closed and to accept more children by loosening regulations. But at the same time, the state is encouraging businesses to rely on remote workers and is encouraging the public to limit itself to gatherings of no more than 100 people. President Donald Trump said Monday that the public should not gather in groups of more than 10. Related: State offers assistance to families and child care providers during emergency
According to a state report, 85.5 percent of early childcare workers are women and 55.1 percent identify as Latina or Hispanic.
Two state agencies are providing child care assistance to parents who need help during the coronavirus pandemic. The Children, Youth and Families Department (CYFD) and the Early Childhood Education and Care Department (ECECD) made changes to the state’s early childhood policies in response to Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s public health emergency declaration due to the spread of COVID-19, a type of coronavirus. The state is encouraging families to stay home as much as possible during the global pandemic. But if families need assistance with childcare during the public health emergency, the state has made changes to offer assistance. The state is also offering various forms of assistance to child care providers to encourage them to stay open during this time of crisis.
Hed: Reproductive justice advocates say abortion ban repeal ‘next year’
Many reproductive justice advocates said their biggest disappointment of the 2020 legislative session is that the 1969 New Mexico law banning abortion is still on the books. But some in the Respect NM Women Coalition, a group of reproductive justice advocates and organizations, say ‘next year.’
“We’re looking forward to repealing the state’s archaic 1969 abortion ban in 2021,” said Joan Lamunyon Sanford, executive director of NM Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice. The nonprofit she leads is part of the coalition. While the law is still on the books, it is not currently enforceable because of the landmark Roe v. Wade U.S. Supreme Court decision. The law is worrisome for many because the U.S. Supreme Court will hear a Louisiana law, June Medical Services v. Russo (formerly June Medical Services v. Gee) requiring abortion clinics in that state to be affiliated with a hospital and have admitting privileges.
Marisol Baird said her young children, 17-month-old Norah and 4-year-old Liam, don’t yet understand the significance of a bill the governor signed into law during a news conference the family attended Tuesday at the state Capitol. “Someday they will see the results pay off,” Baird said of House Bill 83, which establishes an endowment to help fund early childhood programs throughout New Mexico. “And hopefully for their children, it will be even better.” Surrounded by Cabinet secretaries, lawmakers, parents and kids as she put her signature on the new Early Childhood Trust Fund, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said, “This is a victory for families and children.” The fund will kick off with an appropriation of $320 million in fiscal year 2021 and will be sustained in future years by oil and gas-related revenue sources.
The full state Senate approved legislation Wednesday that would create a new revenue stream for early childhood programs.
By a vote of 40-0, senators passed Senate Bill 3, sponsored by Sen. John Arthur Smith and Rep. Doreen Gallegos. The legislation calls for an appropriation of $320 million to start a new Early Childhood Education and Care Fund that would draw on two other funding sources in future years. The proposal aims to help the state leverage unprecedented oil revenue to boost spending on early childhood education, which Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has emphasized since taking office, without causing volatility in the general fund. “This gives us a reliable revenue stream,” Smith, D-Deming, said on the Senate floor. “If you have only hills and valleys, you’re not talking about a plan, you’re talking about a political deal.”
Smith, who is chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, also thanked the windfall from the oil boom in the Permian Basin for giving the state the money to create the new fund. “We still would have been waiting except for the generous returns of oil and gas that have allowed us to do this,” he said.
The New Mexico Senate unanimously confirmed the leader of the state’s newly established Early Childhood Education and Care Department on Friday following an overwhelming show of support from educators, child advocacy agencies and fellow Cabinet leaders. “Elizabeth Groginsky has already earned the respect of the early childhood community in New Mexico — as underscored by the deeply positive testimony we heard in support of her confirmation today,” Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced in a statement after the Senate vote. Groginsky, 53, is a Colorado native and former Washington, D.C., education official who has spent her career in early childhood services and policy development. She is leading an agency that will consolidate a range of services for children from birth to age 5, as well as prenatal programs.
Lujan Grisham appointed Groginsky to the Cabinet position in November. Her confirmation comes as the governor and Legislature are working to close a gap in proposed spending on the Early Childhood Education and Care Department, which is set to take over services when the new fiscal year begins July 1.
One-third of the way through the 2020 legislative session, the House and Senate have yet to hear the state’s main budget bill. But as that moment draws nearer, a flurry of negotiations over how to spend more than $7 billion are heating up in committee meetings and behind closed doors. Key talks involve bridging the gaps between the executive and legislative branches’ competing spending plans on education. A series of interviews on Thursday showed some of those discrepancies are being resolved, while others … well, not yet.
SANTA FE — Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham campaigned on a promise to transform early childhood education throughout New Mexico. After a months-long nationwide search, she has found a candidate to lead the effort, which could command a budget of nearly half a billion dollars in the next fiscal year. In November, the governor named Elizabeth Groginsky as secretary-designate of the brand new Early Childhood Education and Care Department, which will coordinate health and education services for the state’s 120,000 children under age 5. Groginsky arrives from Washington, D.C., where she served as assistant superintendent of early learning for the district’s education department, bringing together early childhood services from across numerous agencies — much as she’ll be doing in New Mexico. This story originally appeared at Searchlight New Mexico and is reprinted with permission.