2021 Kids Count Data Book indicates positives but also continued challenges

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 replaces James Jimenez to lead New Mexico Voices for Children

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.

Conference provides fresh data on wellbeing of New Mexico children during the pandemic

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.

Unable to get assistance: What happens to New Mexicans who speak lesser used languages

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.

Some don’t know what they’ll do when federal unemployment assistance ends Sept. 4

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.

Tax bill that advocates say will bring greater equity signed into law

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.

State and federal child tax credits improve equity for children of color in the state

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.

Kids Count book shows good and bad news for New Mexico children

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.

Pandemic has worsened child well being in state

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.

School budget cuts could be worse than thought, advocates say

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.