New Mexico Legal Aid is a nonprofit law firm that has offered free legal assistance for New Mexicans living in poverty for more than 50 years. Inside our offices, the intake call center is completely loaded as soon as we open for business. It’s very common for potential clients to begin calling well before we open in hopes of being first when we start in the morning.
Each month, more than 1,000 New Mexicans living at the poverty line reach out to our attorneys and staff seeking help. In many instances, we are able to quickly solve their problems in a matter of hours, but, all too often, we have clients who are dealing with multiple issues at once, such as eviction, unemployment, domestic violence and income security concerns.
Those individuals are assigned to one of our advocates. Our advocates work in four specialized divisions; family, consumer, housing and economic security, and they are stretched thin handling more than 5,500 cases a year. But the high caseload volume isn’t nearly as frustrating as when they are forced to turn down a viable case simply because we lack resources. For more than 100 New Mexicans per month, this is their reality.
Currently, there are nearly 400,000 New Mexicans living in poverty who qualify for our services, and we already see demand increasing continually. In order to help more, we need a stronger commitment from the state Legislature to increase funds for the Civil Legal Services Commission, which supports nonprofit civil legal providers in New Mexico. We need to increase our staff and we need to be able to offer a competitive salary to a limited pool of available legal talent. A recent study conducted by New Mexico Voices for Children looked specifically at New Mexico families and their income security. In its study, NMVC reported that as many as 34% of New Mexican children were food insecure in 2020, compared to 24% in 2018. And nearly 30% of adults in households with children had little to no confidence in their ability to pay their next rent or mortgage payment on time. This study helps to put in perspective some of the reasons behind the increasing demand for assistance from our nonprofit.
Thankfully, we work alongside several other organizations that are equally focused and dedicated to the mission of helping those living in poverty by assisting them with their legal issues. Each year, roughly 15,000 New Mexicans benefit from the direct legal services offered by New Mexico Legal Aid and thousands more benefit from our indirect services. When we succeed in assisting a client, we keep a family in their home, we improve the educational outcomes for their children, and we improve health outcomes for the family. We help these families to achieve roots in the community, which, in turn, helps them achieve greater income and, ultimately, deeper roots in our community.