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Where to go if you need legal aid but can’t pay

“God’s country!” That’s what my dad calls New Mexico. With so many wonderful sites, it’s easy to understand why.

From the green, forest-filled north, to the wide-open deserts of the south. From the rich farmlands to the east, to the historic breathtaking views of the west. With blue skies and plentiful resources from border to border, there can be very little argument that we are close to heaven.

But, it’s more than the beautiful landscapes or abundantly nice weather. It has to do with the people of New Mexico.

We are as diverse and bountiful as the place that surrounds us. Resilient is a good word to describe our citizens. “We grow as we go,” as our state motto appropriately describes.

Despite these countless strengths, recently many have felt like we are living a tale of two cities – the best of times and the worst of times.

We are a state full of wealth and natural resources, but so many of us live in poverty. Our communities are filled with the most intelligent people at Los Alamos and Sandia national laboratories, state universities and military bases. Yet, we rank near the bottom of most lists related to the education of our youth.

Why are we so poor and undereducated? Many well-intentioned people have asked this question. Many whose job it is to find the answer have asked this question.

But, the question remains, why?

The answer of course is very complex. Supply and demand, global economy, too little pay, lack of funding, too much testing, political will, and, of course, taxes.

So many reasons – no definitive answers.

We know many problems related to poverty stem from the lack of education. History has taught us that the only true pathway out of poverty is through education.

Seems so simple – why not just stay in school?

Perhaps we get distracted by the problems in life. Perhaps we are unfamiliar with or uninformed about the resources that are available to help make better decisions about our financial, legal and educational goals.

With more help and better information, maybe we would be able to resolve our poverty and education problems. We could overcome the current state of affairs, one problem, one person, one family at a time.

Even though life’s complicated, we know people have succeeded by planning, weighing options and getting advice from experts before making decisions. Wouldn’t it be great, if we could get this help from professionals before making significant decisions in our lives?

For example, money and taxes. Wouldn’t it be nice if there were places to get these answers?

There are places:

The University of New Mexico’s Law School Low Income Taxpayer Clinic, 505-277- 5265, can help resolve IRS disputes.

Consumer Credit Counseling Services, 888-889-9347, can provide assistance with money management, budgeting and credit. They can also help develop repayment programs.

What about legal problems?

We know numerous issues related to poverty involve legal questions, our justice system or governmental programs. What if a place existed where we could get information or assistance about legal matters? Well, there is a place.

Law Access New Mexico, 800-340-9771, has attorneys available by phone to answer legal questions and refer to appropriate agencies for further assistance.

What about help for seniors? There are places for that, too.

New Mexico Aging and Long-Term Services, 800-432-2080, is dedicated to promoting the independence and dignity of elders. Adult Protective Services, 505-841-4500, can help with adult home-care services and referrals.

Divorce and child custody?

The Family Law Clinic is available every third Wednesday of the month in the District Courthouse in Albuquerque. Advocacy Inc., 505-256-9369, provides guardian ad litem services for children in cases alleging abuse, neglect or abandonment.

Children with disabilities?

The ARC of New Mexico advocates for developmentally disabled persons and their families. The group assists in getting SSI and Medicaid benefits.

There are lawyers, counselors, medical, mental health and addiction professionals available to assist. In fact, there are so many people and organizations within our communities that are willing to help, at little or no cost, that they all can’t be listed here.

If you need help, start by contacting Law Access New Mexico, 800-340-9771, or New Mexico Legal Aid, 505-243-7871. Call them. If they can’t help you, they can refer you to an appropriate organization that can.

Over the years, if we have learned anything, it’s that the people of our state are resilient. They are also extremely helpful, friendly and kind.

That’s what makes New Mexico “God’s country!”

Frank A. Sedillo is a judge of the Bernalillo County Metropolitan Court. Opinions expressed here are solely those of the judge individually and not those of the court.

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