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Clothing Help for Children May Be Eliminated

SANTA FE – An annual clothing allowance for school-age children is on the verge of being scrapped due to a lack of funding in next year’s state budget, though Gov. Susana Martinez is considering keeping the program at least temporarily afloat.

In its current form, the clothing allowance provides $100 per year for children ages 6 to 19 who qualify through various income-support programs.

While a lack of funding led the Human Services Department to propose eliminating the program, Martinez’s office hinted earlier this week the clothing allowance – which benefited more than 20,000 children last year – could be extended by using leftover federal stimulus money.

The first-term Republican governor has pulled back about $2.6 million in stimulus funding previously earmarked by former Gov. Bill Richardson.

Some of that money has already been committed to extending supplemental food stamp assistance for elderly and disabled New Mexicans.

“The governor is also looking at the possibility of directing additional funds to the children’s clothing allowance, a program she funded in her executive budget recommendation that the Legislature chose not to fund,” Martinez spokesman Scott Darnell said.

A final decision on how much money could be spent on the program hasn’t been made.

State budget documents show Martinez included $1.9 million for the clothing allowance in her budget recommendation, but state lawmakers didn’t provide funding for the program in this year’s General Appropriations Act.

If the clothing allowance were scrapped, it would mark New Mexico’s latest reduction in “safety net” programs, which have had increased participation levels in recent years at the same time the state struggles with an ongoing budget crunch.

In addition, it would mean $200 less per year than what qualified families were recently receiving.

That’s because the clothing allowance had been offered twice annually until late last year, when former Gov. Bill Richardson’s administration reduced it to once a year due to budgetary limitations.

A public hearing on the proposed elimination of the clothing allowance will be held at 10 a.m. July 1 in the conference room at the state Income Support Division, 2009 S. Pacheco St., Santa Fe.

— This article appeared on page C2 of the Albuquerque Journal