By NM Voices for Children’s policy team
Mar. 13, 2020
On Wednesday, Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham took the necessary step of declaring a state of emergency in New Mexico in order to address the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. As the state moves forward with immediate activity to address the health implications of this global pandemic, we also urge lawmakers to consider enacting policies that will help mitigate its economic fallout for families and children in New Mexico.
We know this pandemic will present unique challenges to New Mexico’s health care systems. While we’ve greatly expanded health insurance coverage over the last few years and reduced the number of New Mexicans without insurance, this outbreak reminds us that not one of us is truly safe when some of us are vulnerable. The state should require that the costs of testing and treatment for the coronavirus are fully covered to ensure that all New Mexicans can get the care that will protect them and their communities. New Mexico should also enact a health care affordability act –similar to HB 278 (Health Insurance Tax & New Fund), which was considered during this year’s legislative session – that would ensure no one is denied care because they can’t afford the cost.
New Mexico must also fully fund Medicaid, the Department of Health, and community and school-based health programs – now and in future years – in order to address the immediate impacts of COVID-19 and to prevent or mitigate the harm of future pandemics. In the longer term, we should commit ourselves to universal health care so no one is left without coverage in times like this. And we must invest in the development of our health care workforce.
Family Economic Security
Guaranteeing all workers paid sick leave is a proven way to slow the spread of disease, and would disproportionately benefit working families who earn low incomes. While we have no comprehensive national paid leave policies, places that have enacted them are considerably healthier than are those that have not. In New Mexico, however, only half of private-sector workers have access to paid sick leave – the worst rate in the nation. Expanding paid leave to all New Mexicans would benefit our families and the state’s economy in the long term, but we also must ensure paid leave immediately for all workers affected by this public health crisis both for their own health and for the health of our communities.
Workers who do become unemployed, are furloughed, or have their work hours cut due to business downturns or sickness will be the first to feel the economic pain. We should do all we can to speed up the application process for unemployment insurance, provide benefits with no waiting period, and maximize eligibility levels and benefits so no one is left behind. We should also protect those who face losing their employer-provided health insurance benefits because of an economic downturn.
With school and child care facility closures, and work disruptions, a pandemic presents unique challenges for families with young children. In order to maintain a strong early learning and care system through this pandemic, lawmakers should enact practical policies to ensure that families of preschool-aged children are supported and to protect child care workers and centers – many of which are small businesses operating on very slim margins – from an economic crisis.
Policymakers should invest in a wage supplement program for early childhood providers and eliminate co-pays for all parents to ensure that they are supported. Payment policies should be adjusted so they are based on enrollment of children rather than actual attendance, and state policies that terminate child eligibility based on a specific number of absent days must be waived. Finally, the state should streamline enrollment in safety net programs.
In New Mexico, the majority of children depend on school meals for consistent access to food. Approximately 75 percent of our children participate in the free and reduced-price school lunch program and 57 percent of those students also receive breakfast. As schools in New Mexico will be closed until at least April 6, the state must take immediate steps to ensure that children enrolled in these meal programs have some other access to the meals they will be missing at school. The state should also be taking steps to minimize food insecurity including: increasing the state Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) supplement to provide more benefits for recipients; establishing a food distribution system to provide meals for food-insecure families; extending the certification for the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) to 30 days; streamlining SNAP by exempting families from certain requirements, such as work or education and training requirements; and lastly, making SNAP application available online, by mail, or telephone.
Targeted changes to our tax code – on both the state and federal levels – also need to be considered. By making smart changes to our tax code, we can ensure that those most impacted by COVID-19 are supported and protected, both from this current pandemic and future public health emergencies. For example, policymakers should consider employer tax credits to help workers, rather than a payroll tax cut, which provides fewer benefits to lower-income families and is less targeted to workers who don’t receive paid time off.
Addressing the current pandemic, as well as future health and climate crises, requires significant financial resources. The Trump administration’s 2017 tax cuts – which overwhelmingly benefited the wealthiest individuals and resulted in $320 billion less in federal revenue this year – should be reversed to help cover the costs of this health crisis. Corporate tax compliance needs to be enforced, especially since many large corporations paid zero taxes in 2018. Other progressive tax reform measures – like increasing the personal income tax for those at the top and enacting wealth taxes – should be considered so we can equitably raise the revenues needed to help those most impacted. And finally, we need these progressive revenues to fund immediate needs without pitting public health funds against other important community health and economic well-being investments. In New Mexico, we also need to be mindful of maintaining our rainy-day funds in the event of a recession and falling oil and gas revenues.
Investing in our families, in our kids, and in their health and economic security is always the smart and morally right thing to do, but in times of health and economic crises, it is a necessity.
Amber Wallin, Bill Jordan, Paige Knight, Derek Lin, Javier Rojo, Jacob Vigil, and Emily Wildau contributed to this blog.