Kahleel Alkhalil, a 35-year-old Syrian refugee living in Albuquerque with his wife and eight children, has not been able to receive government relief he qualifies for because he speaks Arabic. Alkhalil is one of thousands of New Mexicans who are eligible for pandemic relief who speak a language other than English or Spanish, said James Jimenez, executive director of New Mexico Voices for Children. Because the nonnative speakers do not possess either English or Spanish skills, they are often unable to access government assistance they qualify for during the COVID-19 pandemic because state government documents and systems do not offer alternative language choices, Jimenez said. A recent New Mexico Voices for Children report, Eligible but Excluded, said that federal law requires state agencies to provide “meaningful access” to people who speak languages other than English but many state agencies in New Mexico have no plans in place to improve language access. This makes breaking a system of economic hardship difficult and is inequitable, the report states.
With federal unemployment assistance ending in New Mexico on Sept. 4, Albuquerque resident Rhiannon Chavez-Ross worries she could lose her house. A single mom with two children, Chavez-Ross lost her party and event business when the COVID-19 pandemic began. She said she received a Paycheck Protection Program loan of less than $1,000 for her business last year and she has been on unemployment benefits since the early days of the virus’ spread. But, she said she has had to supplement her unemployment relief with money from her savings.
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed a bill on Tuesday that child welfare advocates have said will be a game changer in New Mexico. HB 291 expands tax credits for families. Rep. Javier Martinez, D-Albuquerque, was the lead sponsor of the bill. The new law makes the tax code more equitable than it was before, New Mexico Voices for Children Executive Director James Jimenez previously told NM Political Report. Related: State and federal child tax credits improve equity for children of color in the state
Jimenez said New Mexico’s tax policies are “regressive,” which means that those who make the least pay the highest percentage of their income in taxes.
Tax credits that recently passed the New Mexico Legislature and the U.S. Congress will improve child poverty and equity issues, according to child welfare advocates. The New Mexico Legislature passed HB 291, a bill that will raise revenue by about $5 million annually, said James Jimenez, executive director of New Mexico Voices for Children. The bill, whose lead sponsor was Rep. Javier Martinez, D-Albuquerque, improves the state’s Working Family Tax Credit and the Low Income Comprehensive Tax Rebate, he said. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s office still has to sign the bill. Her office is reviewing the measures the Legislature passed, spokesperson Nora Meyers Sackett told NM Political Report.
Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, the child advocacy group New Mexico Voices for Children had some good news about how the state’s children have fared. The data for New Mexico Voices for Children’s 2020 New Mexico Kids Count Data Book comes from information mostly before 2020, so the statistics indicate how children were doing before the pandemic. James Jimenez, executive director for New Mexico Voices for Children, said during the virtual press conference on Wednesday that next year, “we’ll see the damage the pandemic did statistically.”
But he expressed hope that with the gains the state made before the pandemic in improving statistically in various categories, New Mexico will bounce back after the pandemic is over. “Once we get to normalcy, New Mexico will take off again,” Jimenez said. Some areas of improvement included youth socioeconomic status.
The COVID-19 pandemic is threatening the progress the state started to make towards ending its long-time position as 50th in the nation for child well being, according to child advocacy organization New Mexico Voices for Children. Emily Wildau, research and policy analyst for New Mexico Voices for Children’s annual Kids Count data book, said the U.S. census polled Americans using both text and computers from the end of April to the end of July to generate early data on how the nation was faring under the pandemic. Some of that data was available at the state level, she said. New Mexico ranked as the lowest in the nation for child well-being in 2020, according to the Kids Count data book, and has done so for years. Recent policy changes and the increased revenue from the oil boom in the Permian Basin last year brought hope for many child advocates of an improved future, especially for children of color and low-income children in New Mexico.
But according to New Mexico Voices for Children, 51 percent of adults in households with children in New Mexico have lost employment since March.
Just as the New Mexico Legislature passes a new budget that will cut 0.6 percent out of the school budget for the next fiscal year, a newly released report shows that New Mexico is, again, at the bottom for child well being. The Annie E. Casey Foundation, a private philanthropic organization focused on children, released its annual report this week on child well being and ranked New Mexico as 50th in the nation. James Jimenez, executive director for the nonprofit New Mexico Voices for Children, said New Mexico has ranked near the bottom for “a very long time,” but came to the lowest ranking in 2013 and has been there “for a few years.”
“It’s a reflection of the fact that despite what people say, that kids are our most precious asset, it’s not true in the way we invest our money in state and local government,” Jimenez said. Last week the state passed a revised state budget for fiscal year 2020-2021 that will cut 0.6 percent from the school budget despite cries from some school superintendents and advocates that this will be detrimental and will put the state in a position where it cannot live up to the requirements of the Yazzie-Martinez lawsuit, which said the state did not provide adequate education for students. Related: Superintendents: Proposed cuts to education will worsen racial and economic inequity
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham is expected to sign the solvency budget, though she can veto by line-item.
About 5,800 recipients of legal protections for some young immigrants in the state got surprising, but welcome, news Thursday when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against President Donald Trump in his lawsuit against the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. The 5-4 ruling allows the program under the Department for Homeland Security to continue. Put in place under the Obama administration in 2012, it allows individuals who came to the U.S. as children to gain temporary legal status so they can apply to college and professional jobs. According to a 2019 U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service report, 652,880 residents are enrolled in the program. New Mexico was one of the states that sued the federal government.
More New Mexico families will qualify for child care assistance without being wait-listed, and could stay longer on the program under proposed rules posted Monday by the Children Youth and Families Department. Under current eligibility limits put in place in the wake of a lawsuit against CYFD, families can qualify and stay on the child care program if they make less than two times the federal poverty level, but not one dollar more. The proposal would take the exit point up to 250% of the poverty level.
To put the changes in perspective, a single mother with two children could make up to $42,660 per year and qualify, and could keep getting child care assistance with increasing co-pays until she earned $53,325. About 90 percent of child care assistance recipients are single-parent households. “It’s just our new approach and our plan to make New Mexico a safe place to be a child,” Charlie Moore-Pabst, a spokesman for CYFD, told New Mexico in Depth.
The Democratic and Republican candidates for governor outlined their plans for education in the state for a crowd of educational advocates on Monday. While both U.S. Reps. Michelle Lujan Grisham and Steve Pearce seemed to agree there is plenty to fix in the state, their starkest differences came down to state-funded, early childhood education. Their speeches were part of the annual New Mexico Voices for Children Kids Count conference in Albuquerque. Democratic nominee Lujan Grisham told conference attendees she supported tapping an addition one percent from the state’s land grant permanent fund to fund a long term, sustainable early childhood education program.