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Governor: Ongoing investment in kids and their families needed

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham says the state needs to maintain its investment in programs that benefit kids and families, despite the economy experiencing a double whammy from COVID-19 business closures and the sharp reduction of state revenue due to falling oil and gas prices.

The governor made the remarks Tuesday during the 8th annual Kids Count Conference, held virtually and streamed live.

She said New Mexico was on a path to improving the well-being of children in our state after the past two state legislative sessions resulted in additional funding for education, teacher pay, health care, child care, food assistance, housing assistance and an increase in the minimum wage. Lujan Grisham also created a new Cabinet-level Early Childhood Education and Care Department.

“There are going to be detractors who say we can’t invest the way we were … because we’re in the hole a billion plus (dollars) going into FY21,” the governor said.

But she said continuing to fund those efforts is vital.

“When you make those investments, you make a difference,” she said. “And if we don’t stay the course, we basically say to the current generation of families and students we didn’t care enough about fighting for you.”

Katrina Jimenez Lewis, a senior policy analyst with the Annie E. Casey Foundation, which assembles the yearly Kids Count Data Book, said child well-being is improving nationally as funding and programs are put into place.

According to the data book from 2018, the most recent available, and preceding the coronavirus crisis, more kids now have health insurance, teen births have declined, more states have signed up for expanded Medicaid and more high school students are graduating on time – although Native American, Black and Hispanic students are still lagging, Lewis said.

“If not for government interventions, support and services, the rate for child poverty in our country would be 28%; with interventions, it is 14%,” Lewis said.

New Mexico is, however, ranked dead last in overall child well-being, 49th in economic well-being, 50th in education and 41st in health. We also have the second-worst rate of child poverty in the nation and the worst rate of child food security, said Amber Wallin, deputy director of New Mexico Voices for Children.

Nevertheless, New Mexico continues to improve in many of the indictors that measure child well-being, and Wallin credits the commitment of policy makers and “investments in programs to benefit kids and families.”

“We know that investing in our kids and families will pay dividends multiple times over,” she said.

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