NM KIDS COUNT Report: State Makes Little Progress on Child Well-Being

State Should Take a Two-Generation Approach to Solving Problems

January 20, 2015

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

ALBUQUERQUE—While New Mexico ranking rose slightly from 50th in 2013 to 49th in 2014 in the national KIDS COUNT rankings of child well-being, state policy makers not have managed to make much progress toward improving how well the state cares for its kids. The KIDS COUNT program measures 16 indicators of child well-being, and New Mexico saw improvement in just five of those. Worse, child poverty—a main factor in poor outcomes—actually increased (from 28 percent to 31 percent) even as it decreased in most of the rest of the nation.

These trends are tracked in the 2014 KIDS COUNT in New Mexico data book, being released today by New Mexico Voices for Children. The annual state KIDS COUNT report, which includes the most recent data on child well-being status, such as teen birth rates, preschool enrollment, and health insurance coverage—along with policy recommendations—makes it clear that state lawmakers should make it a priority to address the needs of all children by supporting a holistic, coordinated and two-generation approach that serves both children and their families.

“The fact that we’ve seen a deterioration in key indicators—child poverty, children living in high-poverty areas, children living in single-parent families, and reading and math proficiency scores, for example—shows us the importance of creating and taking action on a comprehensive plan to make New Mexico a better place for working families and their children,” said Veronica C. García, Ed.D., executive director of NM Voices, which runs the KIDS COUNT program in New Mexico. “We recognize that the data change over one year does not provide a trend, but it is still concerning that some of our worst child well-being outcomes continue to decline.”

The data book talks about the need to take a two-generation approach to reducing child poverty. Such an approach would mean coordinating services for children—such as health care, food benefits, and early care and education—with services that give their parents tools to improve the family’s economic situation. These would include programs that help parents gain more education and job training that also take child care needs into consideration.

“When children have a strong start in the very early years—from zero to five—they are much more likely to do well throughout school and life, so we need to increase our investments in those years. And since children grow up in families, we also need to ensure that all parents and guardians have the tools they need to be successful. That’s the way to make lasting progress, break the cycle of poverty, have an educated workforce, a strong economy and improve the quality of life for all New Mexicans,” she added.

As it did last year, the data book includes a section that tracks changes in the 16 indicators that are used in the national KIDS COUNT data book, which is released every summer by the Annie E. Casey Foundation. This section also looks at legislation that has recently been enacted that aims to address these problems and presents data at the county level where available.

“In short, we must take bold action to mitigate the impacts of poverty on our children,” said Dr. Garcia. “The future of our state is being decided today and will be balanced on the investments we make—or fail to make—in our children.”

The data book is available online at http://www.nmvoices.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/2014-NM-Kids-Count-data-book.pdf

More data on child and family well-being are available at the state, county, school district, and tribal levels at http://datacenter.kidscount.org/data#NM

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                        KIDS COUNT is a program of New Mexico Voices for Children and is made possible by grants from the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

 New Mexico Voices for Children is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization advocating for policies to improve the health and well-being of New Mexico’s children, families and communities.

625 Silver Ave. SW, Suite 195, Albuquerque, NM 87102; 505-244-9505 (p); www.nmvoices.org

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Honorees Announced for Annual Spirit of Hope Awards

Awardees include a judge, early childhood educator, legislator and foundation CEO

November 14, 2014
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

ALBUQUERQUE—Four New Mexicans who have dedicated their lives to making the state a better place will be honored at the Spirit of Hope gala. The annual event, a fundraiser for New Mexico Voices for Children, will begin at 6pm on Friday, November 21, at the Sandia Resort and Casino.

The Alice King Public Service Award will be presented to Judge John Romero, Jr. He has been a District Court Judge since 2003, presiding over juvenile justice, child welfare and adoption matters. He currently serves as the only presiding Therapeutic Court Judge over the Program for the Empowerment of Girls, an intensive probation program for girls and their parents. The award is named for former First Lady Alice King, whose contributions to child well-being include playing a significant role in the creation of the Children, Youth and Families Department.

The Patty Jennings and Polly Arango Citizen Advocacy Award will be presented to Olivia Rivera, a life-long early childhood educator. As a school administrator, she worked to establish full-day kindergarten programs in New Mexico, and secured federal funding for the bilingual preschool Even Start and family literacy programs. She is currently with the city of Albuquerque’s Office of Child and Family Development, where she helped to design the Science Learning Center, a hands-on classroom near the Rio Grande Zoo. This award is named for two remarkable women who often advocated together for public policies benefitting families with special-needs children. 

Two Spirit of Hope Awards will be presented this year. State Representative Rick Miera has long championed public policies that have positively impacted the lives of New Mexico children and their families. As Vice Chair of the Legislative Education Study Committee he has fought for higher funding levels for public education. After 24 years of service, Rep. Miera is retiring at the end of this year. Susan Herrera is the CEO of the LANL Foundation where she manages an annual giving budget of $4 million and an endowment of over $68 million. One important initiative she successfully expanded is the First Born Program, a high-quality home visiting programs for first-time parents that now operates in 15 New Mexico counties. 

The award presentations will be the highlight of the evening’s festivities, which will also include dinner, entertainment, and silent and live auctions. Tickets are $100 and are available online at http://www.nmvoices.org/spiritofhope.

The Spirit of Hope Gala begins at 6pm on Friday, November 21, at the Sandia Resort and Casino, and is made possible by our Presenting Sponsor CHI St. Joseph’s Children and Silver Sponsor McGinn Carpenter Montoya & Love, P.A.

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Report: Half of NM Families with Young Children are Low-Income

Casey report recommends connecting families with early education services

November 12, 2014
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

ALBUQUERQUE—More than half of New Mexico families with children under age eight are low-income. A new KIDS COUNT report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation looks at the challenges faced by the 10 million families nationwide who are just trying to make ends meet. The report looks at two-generation solutions, meaning they address the needs of both the young children and their working parents.

“The early years in a child’s life are so critical to shaping that child’s future,” said Veronica C. García, executive director of New Mexico Voices for Children, which is a grantee of the Casey Foundation. “What that child experiences—both the good and the bad—will have an enormous impact on his or her potential for future success. Unfortunately, our high rates of child poverty and child hunger, and other adverse conditions harm our children. We need to balance those experiences with positive building blocks like home visiting, high-quality child care and pre-kindergarten.”

The Casey Foundation’s report focuses on the importance of delivering these early childhood services while simultaneously providing parents with access to job training, career paths, and other tools that enable them to support their families.

The report conclusions are based on data that were provided separately. In New Mexico there are approximately 154,900 families with children ages eight and younger. Of these families:

  • 54 percent are low-income;
  • 11 percent have resident parents without high school diplomas;
  • 35 percent are headed by a single parent;
  • 12 percent are headed by parents younger than age 25; and
  • One-third live in housing that places a high cost burden on them.

“Investments in low-income families provide multiple benefits to the state as a whole,” Dr. García said. “High-quality early childhood services save us much more money in future spending than they cost and would improve our school and college outcomes. This helps us raise a well-educated future workforce. Similarly, when parents get more education and job training, we build the kind of workforce our businesses need to thrive, while families with higher incomes become the kinds of consumers that help our businesses grow. Educating parents also has a dual benefit. Their education has a positive impact on their children, who are more likely to do well in school. It’s a win-win all around.”

The Casey Foundation’s report, “Creating Opportunity for Families: A Two-Generation Approach,” is available online at http://www.aecf.org/resources/creating-opportunity-for-families/

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Report: New Mexico’s Rate of Uninsured Children has Declined

Gains could be erased if Congress fails to act

November 6, 2014
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

ALBUQUERQUE—A new report by a Georgetown University research center found the number of uninsured children in New Mexico declined by nearly 5,000 between 2008 and 2013.

The report, released today by the Georgetown Center for Children and Families, found of the children who remain uninsured, 24 percent live in rural areas of the state. Many of these children are eligible for Medicaid (Centennial Care) but are not enrolled because their families don’t know about the programs or need help overcoming barriers to coverage.

“Fortunately, the Medicaid expansion has enabled more parents to enroll their children,” said Veronica C. García, Ed.D., executive director of New Mexico Voices for Children, which has worked with the Georgetown group on the Medicaid issue. “When parents don’t have unpaid medical bills, financial stress is reduced for the whole family and children’s health needs are more likely to be met.”

The Georgetown report tracked coverage gains in the state through 2013. Since the Medicaid expansion came online earlier this year as part of the Affordable Care Act, it is estimated an additional 15,000 children have been enrolled.

These recent gains could erode in the coming months, however, as funding for the national Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), which supports Medicaid for kids, will expire unless Congress votes to renew it.

 “Without a renewed commitment to children’s health coverage, we are concerned that the progress we’ve made for children will stall,” said Joan Alker, Executive Director of the Georgetown University Center for Children and Families. “States rely on federal funding to serve uninsured children and it’s crucial that those funds continue to support these successful efforts.”

Preliminary estimates suggest as much as $24 million in federal funds to support children’s coverage in the state could be at risk if Congress fails to act.

The Georgetown University Center for Children and Families report is available online at: http://ccf.georgetown.edu/ccf-resources/childrens-coverage-crossroads-progress-slows/

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Report: Expanding Working Families Tax Credit Would Generate Economic Activity and Help Hard-Working Families

October 27, 2014
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

ALBUQUERQUE—As New Mexico’s recovery from the recession continues to lag behind the rest of the nation, lawmakers should expand the Working Families Tax Credit (WFTC) to increase the purchasing power of low-income working New Mexicans and generate economic activity.

The WFTC is a state-level version of the federal Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), which is considered one of the nation’s most effective anti-poverty programs. This is especially important because while things are getting better nationwide, recent Census data show that in New Mexico, poverty has actually gotten worse.

“These tax credits for low-income families further incentivize work and the money is spent quickly and in local stores and businesses,” said Veronica García, Executive Director of New Mexico Voices for Children. “The credits can also help families with big expenses, such as a car repair and child care, that can help keep parents in the workforce.”

New Mexico’s WFTC is currently worth 10 percent of the federal EITC, but the report recommends raising it to 15 percent or more. Expanding outreach efforts so that more eligible workers know to claim it, and offering more low-cost or free tax preparation services are also among the recommendations. The report recommendations were presented to the legislative Revenue Stabilization and Tap Policy committee last week.

The credit benefits almost 300,000 New Mexico children and has lifted more than 40,000 families out of poverty. Among those who benefit from the credits are 14,000 families headed by military veterans who are making their way back into the workforce.

The full report is available online at: http://www.nmvoices.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/WFTC-report-10-2014-web.pdf

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Report: NM’s Per-Pupil K-12 Funding Still Much Lower than Before Recession

Cuts Harm Efforts to Educate State’s Future Workforce

October 16, 2014
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

ALBUQUERQUE—New Mexico is still spending 8 percent less per pupil on K-12 education than before the recession. That translates to $633 less being spent per student than funding levels in 2008, when adjusted for inflation. That’s according to a report released by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), a non-partisan policy research organization based in Washington, D.C.

“A well-educated workforce fosters economic growth,” said Veronica C. García, Executive Director of New Mexico Voices for Children, which works closely with CBPP. “We’re already seeing the negative consequences for New Mexico in child well-being. The state needs to reverse course.”

State revenue declined sharply during the recession. But instead of addressing budget shortfalls by taking a balanced approach that included more new revenue, New Mexico relied very heavily on cuts to state services, including education. Although most states cut K-12 funding, only 18 states made deeper cuts than New Mexico. When it comes to the change in the dollar amount spent per pupil, only ten states were worse.

“Reducing investment in schools has long-term economic consequences,” said Dr. Garcia. “Quality elementary, middle, and high school education provides a crucial foundation that allows children to go on to succeed in college and in the workplace,” she added. 

“At a time when the nation is trying to produce workers with the skills to master new technologies and adapt to the complexities of a global economy, states should be investing more—not less—to ensure our kids get a strong education,” said Michael Leachman, director of state fiscal research at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and co-author of the report released today.

The Center’s full report can be found at http://www.cbpp.org/cms/index.cfm?fa=view&id=4213

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Report: Teens and Young Adults Not Faring Well in NM Workforce

College enrollment also in decline, contrary to past recessionary trends

Sept. 30, 2014
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

ALBUQUERQUE—The share of teens and young adults in the workforce has declined over the past two decades in New Mexico—a trend that is consistent with other states in the mountain region and the U.S. as a whole. Even though New Mexico is in sync with workforce trends for teens and young adults, the state has some of the lowest labor force participation and unemployment rates, and employment-to-population ratios for this demographic.

These data are part of a new report, “The State of Working New Mexico 2014,” released today by New Mexico Voices for Children.

“New Mexico’s workforce is older and better educated than it was in 1990. While that sounds like a positive development, it is bad news for younger, less educated workers who are being left behind,” said Gerry Bradley, who authored the report and is the Senior Researcher and Policy Analyst with the child advocacy organization. “Our share of workers who are over age 55 has grown significantly, while the share of workers in their prime earning years has fallen. 

The report points to two other disturbing trends for the state’s and nation’s young workers: the share of teens and young adults in the workforce declined even during the economic expansion of the 2000s, and college enrollment rates for those under age 25—which usually increases during the recession—dropped between 2012 and 2013.

“In order for New Mexico’s economy to be strong, the state needs to do a better job of ensuring that teens and young adults have the educational and job training opportunities they need in order to be employable,” said Veronica C. García, Executive Director of NM Voices. “Replacing the money that was diverted from the College Affordability Fund and making the Lottery Scholarship need-based would help more New Mexicans earn college degrees, which would make our state more attractive to businesses.”

Those and other policy recommendations from the report were presented to the Legislative Finance Committee at a hearing last week in Santa Fe. Policy recommendations from NM Voices’ report on career pathways, which was released earlier this month, were also presented.

“The State of Working New Mexico 2014: Teenagers and Young Adults in the State’s Workforce” is available online at: http://www.nmvoices.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/SWNM-2014-web.pdf

The previously released report, “Strengthening New Mexico’s Workforce and Economy by Developing Career Pathways,” is available online at: http://www.nmvoices.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/Career-Pathways-rpt-web.pdf

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Report: NM Should Revamp Education Programs for Low-Skilled Workers

Current adult ed system is underfunded, fragmented, and has low completion rates

September 8, 2014
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

ALBUQUERQUE—New Mexico could improve the quality of its workforce and strengthen its economy by implementing changes to its adult education programs for workers who have low levels of education and few job skills. Developing a career pathways framework—which weaves together and aligns adult education, workforce training, and college courses—would increase the success rate, employment opportunities, and earning potential of the state’s low-skilled workers. It would have the added advantage of improving the educational success of those workers’ children.

The value of career pathways is examined in a report by New Mexico Voices for Children. Staff members from the group’s policy team presented findings at the legislative Economic and Rural Development Committee hearing in Taos last week. The report, which was funded by the Working Poor Families Project, looks at the crucial need to increase the capacity of our workforce, the issues with the state’s current adult education programs, best practices from other states, and the opportunities to promote college access and career readiness for our many low-income working adults.

“If New Mexico’s businesses are to succeed, we need our workforce to succeed. Smart investments in our low-skilled workers would bring multiple benefits to the whole state in the near future and down the road,” said Veronica C. García, Ed.D., executive director of the child advocacy organization. “Children do better in school when their parents are well-educated and earn a family-sustaining wage, so investments in our workforce are a common-sense solution for multiple problems.”

New Mexico has one of the worst rates in the nation of adults without a high school diploma or its equivalent, and we rank poorly on the percentage of adults with no college degree. Still, the state estimates that only 5 percent of the adults who would benefit from additional education and training are served by its programs, and completion rates are only 30 percent. Career pathway programs, on the other hand, yield much higher rates of success. New Mexico has a nascent I-BEST program (Integrated Basic Education and Skills Training), which has high completion rates, but it’s only offered at a few community colleges.

“The return on investment of current adult education programs is high,” said Dr. García. “The Higher Education Department determined that New Mexico’s investment of $5.4 million returned almost $36 million in savings, growth in economic activity, and increased income. Revamping the adult education system to focus on career pathways and transitioning students into college would yield even higher returns. This is a model for success that we need to invest in for the sake of the whole state,” she added.

The report, “Strengthening New Mexico’s Workforce and Economy by Developing Career Pathways,” is available online at http://www.nmvoices.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/Career-Pathways-rpt-web.pdf.

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Child Advocates Comment on Proposed SNAP Rule Change

August 28, 2014
EMBARGOED UNTIL 12:01am, Friday, August 29, 2014

ALBUQUERQUE—Veronica C. García, Ed.D., executive director of New Mexico Voices for Children, will submit the following statement to Secretary Squier regarding the proposed work requirement change for recipients of SNAP benefits at the hearing on Friday, August 29:

Dear Secretary Squier:

I am writing to urge you to stop plans to reinstate work requirements for recipients of SNAP benefits. There are several reasons I believe this plan would be detrimental to New Mexico:

  • New Mexico has the highest rate of child hunger in the nation.
  • New Mexico has the second highest rate of overall hunger in the nation.
  • New Mexico has the worst job growth in the western region and nearly the worst in the nation.
  • The Albuquerque metro area—home to nearly half of the state’s population—is in a double-dip recession.
  • Every dollar of federal SNAP funding creates as much as $1.80 in economic activity; we’d be losing $84 million in economic activity by turning away the estimated $47 million in SNAP money.
  • HSD already has trouble processing SNAP applications in a timely manner; new requirements will only add to the administrative burden of an already-poorly functioning department.

Your desire to encourage work is admirable. But reinstating the work requirements at this point in our economic recovery would stop the program from doing what it was created to do. SNAP works as an “automatic stabilizer” when the economy goes sour. When unemployment is high, people have less money to spend, which leads to lower consumer demand. That, in turn, leads to higher unemployment as businesses cut back on their sales staff to lower expenses. This sort of downward spiral impedes economic recovery and everyone loses. SNAP helps to keep this economic spiral in check, allowing consumer demand for groceries to stay up even as employment goes down.

The economy is healthy when money is circulating by people purchasing goods and services. This demand for goods and services creates jobs, and as the wages from these jobs are spent on more goods and services money continues to circulate through the economy.

Money that is collected in the form of taxes is also circulated right back into the economy, whether directly through paychecks for teachers and first responders, or indirectly to private businesses through contracts for services and the purchase of goods. This is true whether the money is coming straight from the state or federal budgets or if it’s going through a program such as SNAP or Medicaid. SNAP money helps the local economy because it is spent right here in New Mexico at neighborhood grocery stores. It has the added benefit of helping out people when they need a hand.

When money is collected by the government but not spent, it helps no one. While some may think they are saving taxpayer money by not spending it, the truth is, that money is doing the taxpayers no good if it is not circulating in the economy and helping to keep it healthy.

Please consider the impact on the children of those who have had to resort to government benefit programs. The vast majority of these people want to work and would work if they could find a job. Instead of denying them and their children benefits because the job market—which they cannot control—is not creating jobs, the state should be increasing its investments in our most valuable resource—our human capital.

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NM Shows Slight Improvement, Some Decline in 2014 KIDS COUNT Data Book

State ranking moves from 50th to 49th over the year; change insignificant

July 22, 2014
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

ALBUQUERQUE—New Mexico moved up from the bottom ranking of 50th in the 2013 national KIDS COUNT rankings to 49th in child well-being in the 2014 KIDS COUNT Data Book, released today by the Annie E. Casey Foundation. While improvement was made from the 2013 to 2014 editions of the report in some child well-being indicators—such as child poverty, high school graduation, and teen birth rates—others declined.

Key child well-being indicators that worsened from the 2013 data report to this year’s report include the percent of children living in single-parent families, the rate of children living in high-poverty areas, and the percentage of eighth graders who are not proficient in math.

“Although our ranking appears to have slightly improved, we cannot be complacent. New Mexico’s future economic success rides on the investments we make today,” said Dr. Veronica C. García, executive director of New Mexico Voices for Children, which runs the New Mexico KIDS COUNT program. “The question is, are we ensuring that our youngest children—our future workforce—have access to the opportunities that will put and keep them on the path to success? There is no question as to whether New Mexico can create common-sense solutions. We are and always have been an innovative people. We just need to demand that our elected officials make the right investments.”

This is the 25th year the Casey Foundation has released the KIDS COUNT Data Book along with its rankings of the 50 states. New Mexico has never ranked above 40th. States are ranked according to how well children fare in 16 indicators impacting their ability to succeed in life. These include rates of children without health insurance, the percentage of children whose parents do not have secure employment or high school diplomas, fourth grade reading proficiency rates, and the like.

“If we continue to fail to address the well-being of our children in a comprehensive and effective way, New Mexico will maintain its place at the bottom of the heap,” said Dr. García. “We know what policies will move the needle. We know, for example, that high-quality early childhood care and learning services provide a strong, positive basis for children’s long-term health, and academic and employment success. We know that the return on this kind of investment far out-performs any other later investments we might make,” she added.

After New Mexico’s low ranking of  50th last year, NM Voices released NM KIDS are COUNTing on Us: A Policy Agenda for a Better New Mexico, which included policy recommendations for addressing all 16 of the indicators of child well-being in a comprehensive way. The child advocacy group released an updated policy agenda last month that includes several new recommendations. It also notes whether recommended policies were addressed during the last legislative session.

The 2014 KIDS COUNT Data Book is available here: http://www.aecf.org/resources/the-2014-kids-count-data-book/

The US and NM profiles are here: http://www.nmvoices.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/US-NM-Kids-Count-profiles-2014.pdf

The updated NM KIDS are COUNTing on Us policy agenda is available here: http://www.nmvoices.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/KIDS-COUNTing-policy-agenda-June-2014-update-web.pdf

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