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Editorial: N.M. Needs To Deliver Its Babies From Poverty

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“Think about an uneducated population continuing to grow and what does that do for (New Mexico’s) economic viability.”

— Peter Winograd, UNM Center for Education Policy Research

There are advocates for the poor who have thought about the fact Medicaid pays for around seven in 10 of all births in the state. And they believe it is an investment in the future.

On the most basic level they are right. It is the humane and responsible thing to ensure children born to parents who do not have the economic means to provide for them come into this world healthy. But unless the long-term plan is to have poverty be the state’s leading economic driver, the state needs to think about creating an environment that gives those children the opportunity to break the cycle of poverty and dependence on public assistance and benefits.

State officials estimate spending on Medicaid in New Mexico will climb $288 million next year, to $4.06 billion in fiscal 2014. (And that doesn’t include the expansion under Obamacare.) Long-term care for low-income elderly accounts for almost a quarter of the spending, bolstering the argument that New Mexico can either embrace cradle-to-grave dependence for the majority of its residents or invest in an educated workforce that moves New Mexicans and the state’s economy forward.

The state must reject its complacency with routine rankings near the bottom nationally and improve its student proficiency levels and graduation rates using reforms that produce better results for the public’s investment — K-12 education accounts for almost half of the annual budget.

State Sen. Sue Wilson Beffort, R-Sandia Park, says “my goal is to have less Medicaid births — to get these young girls to stay in school, to understand that they can have a different life than the way they were brought up themselves.”

Paul Silverman, a director of the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce, says the fact 19,863 of the 27,795 babies born in New Mexico in 2010 were paid for by the state and federally funded health insurance program for the poor “is unbelievably shocking, and it’s a horrible indicator for the state of New Mexico.” He’s right when he says we “have to take the actions that are necessary to build a private sector and create a much more diversified economy based on the private sector.”

Entering the world dependent on public assistance for health care provides for a challenging existence for seven out of 10 children in this state, especially when considering that about one quarter of those low-income moms are teens.

New Mexico must take steps to give them a more stable economic footing not simply by piling on more social services but by reforming its public education system and fostering private-sector development.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.

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