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Billions for NM in virus relief package

Clockwise from top left, Rep. Teresa Leger Fernandez, Sen. Ben Ray Lujan, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and Sen. Martin Heinrich discuss the virus relief package that was passed by the House on Wednesday. They said as much as $9 billion could be coming to New Mexico.

Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal

About $9 billion could be flowing into New Mexico as part of the massive virus relief package approved by the House on Wednesday, and expected to be signed into law soon.

Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., said the exact amount New Mexico will receive is still being calculated. But the $9 billion within the 628-page bill includes $2.5 billion for New Mexico governments; individual benefits most people in the state will qualify for; grants for businesses and farmers; $1.2 billion to school districts to help reopen; and more than $1 billion for New Mexico tribes.

“In a very real way, I believe that today is the beginning of the end of the pandemic,” Heinrich said during a video conference on Wednesday, the eve of the one-year anniversary of COVID-19 being declared a pandemic and of the first virus cases being confirmed in New Mexico.

During that conference, New Mexico Democratic elected officials praised the relief package. Not only does that $1.9 trillion bill provide billions of dollars to produce and distribute COVID-19 vaccines across the country, but it also includes money for social programs that will benefit many New Mexicans, they said.

President Joe Biden said Wednesday that he will sign the bill into law on Friday, ushering in a massive amount of government spending aimed at fighting the coronavirus and the economic devastation it has caused.

The $2.5 billion for New Mexico governments includes $1.6 billion for the state, $407 million for counties, $177 million for metro areas and $119 million for other local governments.

Bernalillo County, the state’s most populous county, will get about $132 million. The city of Albuquerque will get $114 million, according to data from Sen. Ben Ray Luján’s office. The bill also includes money for vaccine distribution and for efforts to test for the virus and study variants of it.

Fighting poverty

A child tax credit included in the package will have a direct effect on more than 95% of New Mexico families, Heinrich said.

The tax credit program for 2021 will provide families with direct monthly payments totaling up to $3,600 per child per year. The payments will be phased out for married couples making more than $150,000, heads of household making more than $112,500 and individuals making more than $75,000.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said that programs in the relief package will lift many New Mexico families above the poverty line. The Center on Poverty and Social Policy at Columbia University estimated the relief bill could cut childhood poverty in half.

“There are no words to describe the impact that has on a state that has long had extreme and persistent poverty,” Lujan Grisham said.

The relief package also includes $1,400 stimulus checks for individuals and their children dependents. Those qualified for the full checks are individuals making $75,000 or less, heads of household making $112,500 or less or married couples making $150,000 or under. The relief bill also includes an additional $300 weekly federal unemployment benefit through September.

Partisan divide

The bill, the American Rescue Plan, passed the House on Wednesday on a near party-line vote, 220-211. No Republicans supported the measure. The bill took a similar path through the Senate last weekend, passing 50-49 with just support from Democratic senators.

New Mexico Democratic Reps. Teresa Leger Fernández and Deb Haaland voted in support of the relief package. Rep. Yvette Herrell, R-N.M., voted against it. Democratic Sens. Heinrich and Luján voted in favor of the bill in the Senate last weekend.

Herrell said in a statement that the package was full of unnecessary spending. She criticized the bill for its lack of Republican support and the amount of money that goes to programs not related to COVID.

“With the end of this difficult time now in sight, we should be focused on reopening our communities and getting our children back in school as soon as possible,” she said. “Unfortunately, this bill does nothing to make either happen any faster.”

The state’s Democratic lawmakers urged people to file their tax returns, which may affect when and how much money they receive from the relief bill.

Leger Fernández said her office plans to host seminars so people can learn about additional resources that are available in the relief package. She said there is also money included in the deal set aside for different types of grants for small businesses, including restaurants, and U.S. Department of Agriculture grants.

“Once the president signs this, which will be soon, that money is going to start flowing and we want to make sure New Mexicans have access to it,” she said.

Impact on state budget

Under proposed amendments to a $7.4 billion state budget plan passed last month by the House, a Senate budget committee would direct more than $1.6 billion of the federal stimulus dollars to New Mexico’s general fund.

Of that amount, $600 million would be appropriated to the state’s unemployment fund, which was depleted last year due to a pandemic-related surge in New Mexico’s jobless rate.

In addition, $50 million would be appropriated for spending on Medicaid, the joint federal-state health care program that currently covers more than 910,000 New Mexicans.

The budget language, which has not yet been formally approved by the Senate Finance Committee, could prompt a tug-of-war between the Legislature and Lujan Grisham, who has maintained legislative approval is not needed to spend some federal funds.

Some lawmakers have questioned that claim, citing lawmakers’ constitutional powers over the state’s purse strings.

“Federal funds that are allocated to the state must be appropriated by the Legislature,” said Sen. Jacob Candelaria, D-Albuquerque, during a Wednesday meeting of the Senate committee.


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