How tax cuts for the powerful are behind the backlogs

by James Jimenez, executive director of New Mexico Voices for ChildrenAugust 30, 2016

To be safe, healthy, and financially secure is something we all want for ourselves, our children and our families. New Mexico can be a place where communities are safe, people are healthy and thriving, and everyone has the opportunity to build a secure future.

We know what it takes to create strong communities―good schools, roads, libraries, and so forth. Unfortunately, New Mexico has not been making the public investments necessary for this to happen. Instead, we’ve been following the long-discredited trickle-down policy of cutting taxes for the powerful few at the expense of the common good. Worse yet, even as these tax cuts drain the pool of money needed for public investments, some lawmakers are insisting that we need to continue down this counterproductive path.

It seems that every week there is a new story in the newspaper showing the consequences of choosing tax cuts for the powerful over public investment. One of the most egregious, which has a huge impact on public safety, is the backlog of thousands of rape kits with DNA evidence that have not been processed. Each of these kits represents a violent crime, a victim, and a perpetrator. Until we process the DNA evidence the police and district attorneys cannot find, arrest, prosecute, and convict sex offenders. This backlog undoubtedly represents hundreds—if not thousands—of sexual predators who have not only escaped justice, but who have been free to roam our neighborhoods and communities. The Legislature recently set aside some money to address part of this backlog, but lawmakers said there wasn’t enough revenue to do them all.

Another example has serious financial consequences for families trying to make ends meet. The state’s tax department has a backlog of tax refund checks that have not been sent out because the returns have been flagged for more scrutiny. But that scrutiny is slow in coming because, apparently, the department doesn’t have the staff it needs to move these rebates along.

Then there’s the backlog of applications and renewals for the ID cards that patients need in order to purchase medical marijuana. Most patients needing medical marijuana have chronic health problems such as cancer, debilitating pain, or epilepsy. Some are veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. These patients are willing to spend their own money for a medicinal product that offers them relief, but they can only do so if they have an up-to-date ID. Department of Health officials say they have doubled the number of staff who process these cards—from four workers to eight—and even brought on three temporary workers, but this is clearly not enough. They recently extended expired ID cards, but this is just a temporary fix.

The state’s Income Support Division also suffers from a staff shortage, which had made it impossible for the department to process applications for food and health care assistance in a timely manner. We’ve even recently learned that managers have been falsifying applications for emergency food assistance so the department looks like its meeting its deadline. This has delayed food assistance to some of the hungriest and neediest kids and families in New Mexico.

New Mexico communities cannot thrive if our state lacks the revenue it takes to make these investments―and others―in our well-being. The way forward is for lawmakers to repeal the tax cuts and end the practice of letting the most powerful manipulate the tax code to their benefit. It’s time to focus on what helps all New Mexicans.

James Jimenez, MPA, is executive director of New Mexico Voices for Children and has worked with state and city budgets for many years.

Originally published at NM Voices for Children

New Study: Food hardship afflicts more than one in four NM households with children

By Matthew Reichbach

Nearly thirty percent of New Mexico households with children said there was a time over the last year where they could not afford food according to a report (pdf) by the Food Research and Action Center, or FRAC.

The study found that the 28.3 percent of households with children in New Mexico experienced food hardship. This ranked 12th out of 50 states and Washington D.C. from 2009-2010.

The food hardship rate was 28.2 percent for household with children in the Albuquerque Metropolitan Statistical Area.

Both numbers far outstripped the amount of households without children who said at some point from between 2009 and 2010 that they could not afford to feed their households.

The New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty used the report as a reason to criticize the New Mexico Human Services Department for cuts to Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) programs.

The New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty wrote in a statement:

[The Human Services Department] has made a series of cuts to programs for low-income children and their families. HSD said the cuts were necessary because it did not have enough money. However, HSD recently admitted to the Legislative Finance Committee that it did not spend $10 million in funds it had available to pay for these programs in FY2011. Usually children participating in the TANF program receive $100 in August for school clothing. This year, when families are struggling more than ever to make ends meet, they are receiving half that amount. Over 30,000 children will be affected by the cut despite the fact that HSD has the $1.5 million needed to provide this help.

“The new data reaffirm what we’re seeing in our communities – that far too many people continue to struggle with hunger in these challenging economic times,” said Patricia Anders, a staff attorney with the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty. “It demonstrates, as if any further evidence were needed, that this is not the time to make our safety net weaker.”

In May, New Mexico was one of four states and the District of Columbia that cut TANF funds according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP).

At the time, the CBPP said, “New Mexico cut TANF benefits by 15 percent effective January 1, 2011, reducing benefits for a family of three by $67 a month, from $447 to $380.”

“The food hardship rate in New Mexico for households with children is far too high, demonstrating a significant need for increasing family access to federal food assistance services,” said Meghann Dallin, manager of the New Mexico No Kid Hungry Campaign, a project of the New Mexico Collaboration to End Hunger, in a statement released today.

Washington D.C. had the highest rate of food hardship among households with children at 37.4 percent. North Dakota had the lowest percentage of food hardship among households with children at 15.3 percent.

New Mexico’s rate is not atypical among states in the region. Arizona came in at 29 percent, Texas at 27.9 percent, Oklahoma at 27.6 percent, Colorado at 23.4 percent and Utah at 23 percent.

Breaking down the food hardship numbers for households with children by congressional district shows the 1st CD scored the worst with 27.2 percent, followed by the 2nd CD at 25.5 percent. The 3rd Congressional District has the lowest rate at 24.6 percent. None rank among the top 100 in the national, though all are in the top half.

The report found that six of the 45 congressional districts with the worst rates were in Texas, two in Arizona and one in Okahoma.