In a pep rally-type setting, complete with a jazz band and cheering students, the state’s new PullTogether program was unveiled Monday in the Performing Arts Center at Rio Rancho High School.
In a separate and somewhat dueling news conference, Archbishop of Santa Fe John C. Wester said he wants state leaders to do more than “sing a jingle,” and to find new revenue sources to pay for programs such as state-assisted child care and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or food stamps.
The state’s new community engagement campaign is intended to improve the quality of life for children around the state, and ultimately “make New Mexico the best place to be a kid,” according to Gov. Susana Martinez and Children, Youth and Families Department Secretary Monique Jacobson, who are leading the effort.
Skeptics say that without an actual commitment of funding for children’s programs, PullTogether is nothing more than a slick public relations campaign that is being paid for with $2.7 million in taxpayer dollars. More specifically the money comes from reverted early childhood funds unspent by contractor providers, Jacobson previously told the Journal.
A centerpiece of the campaign is a website, PullTogether.org, that provides information on community and CYFD programs and services by breaking them down for those who need help and those who are offering help. The campaign also includes a resource and referral phone line, informational pamphlets distributed through community hubs, and statewide advertising in a variety of media reminding people that a child’s health, safety and well being is everybody’s concern and everybody’s job.
“We agree with the government’s call to pull together,” Wester said Monday in a later news conference at the archdiocese’s Albuquerque office. “It is important to remember, however, that when we pull together, we need to pull resources together.”
Wester took aim at an announcement last month by Martinez that opened a temporary re-application window for 750 families on a waiting list for state-assisted child care. Families are required to reapply by May 31 to be eligible for the Child Care Assistance Program, which may be impossible for people who lack transportation or Internet access, he said.
Veronica García, executive director of the children and family advocacy organization, New Mexico Voices for Children, agreed with the archbishop’s assessment. “I love the sentiment of pulling together, I like the idea of involving community; however, without the resources to support it, I’m a little concerned.”
García, Wester and others called on Martinez and state lawmakers to support a proposed constitutional amendment that would tap into New Mexico’s $15 billion permanent land grant fund to provide up to $150 million a year for early childhood programs. The proposal, which would require approval by voters, died in committee this year.
Dave Simon, executive director of the Jewish Community Center of Greater Albuquerque, is already doing what the PullTogether program is asking. The JCC provides scholarships for foster and needy families to use the JCC facility, as well as scholarships for enrollment in its early education and summer camp programs.
The PullTogether campaign is a “good start,” but more resources will be needed, as well as a growing economy that provides parents with stable jobs. “We simply can’t hand out enough coupons and free passes to parks to really take care of kids,” he said.