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TUES: State consolidates housing assistance funds for renters and owners, + More

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State consolidates housing assistance funds for renters and owners - By Nash Jones, KUNM News

New Mexicans whose finances were hard hit in the pandemic now have a more straightforward way of accessing housing assistance.

The state’s Department of Finance and Administration announced Tuesday that it has consolidated its rental and homeowner assistance programs into one.

The New Mexico Home Fund will provide emergency assistance to support residents in covering their housing expenses in an effort to avoid eviction or foreclosure. The state previously offered a program for renters - the Emergency Rental Assistance Program - that was separate from the subsequent Homeowner Assistance Fund where homeowners would go to access housing aid.

Those who lease their home can apply for help with rent, including past and future payments, as well as utility bills. Homeowners can access funds to go toward their mortgage, including payments in forbearance, as well as property taxes, insurance and utilities.

The federal aid does not need to be repaid regardless of whether a person rents or owns their home.

In order to qualify, applicants must have experienced a pandemic-related financial hardship. In addition, owners must make 150% or less of their area’s the median income and have a mortgage balance of less than $417,000. Renters must make 80% or less of the median income in their area and be at risk for eviction or housing insecurity.

The state says The New Mexico Home Fund will be available at nmhomefund.org until September 2025 unless the money runs out before then.

Poll finds New Mexicans are divided on abortion restrictions – KUNM News, Albuquerque Journal

Regarded as a “safe haven” for people seeking access to abortion services across the United States, New Mexico has stood firm after the slashing of the 1973 Roe V. Wade ruling––allowing abortions without restrictions since 2021.

But, a new poll from the Albuquerque Journal suggests that although the state has been lenient in its approach to abortion care, New Mexicans are divided on whether some restrictions on abortion should be implemented in the future.

Of the 518 voters polled across the state, 35% of them say abortion should always be legal, with 22% saying it should be legal with some restrictions, and 25% would prefer the procedure to be illegal––with the exception of cases involving rape, incest, or complications for the mother’s life.

Only 12% said abortion should be completely outlawed.

With an upcoming gubernatorial election in November, Republican candidate Mark Ronchetti has said he would meet with Democrats halfway and would support banning any abortion after 15 weeks with certain exceptions to the rule like rape.

Incumbent Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham supports full access to abortion care and has issued an executive order to protect abortion patients and providers alike from legal and criminal retaliation across state lines.

Reseeding to begin over McBride Fire burn scar - KOB-TV, KUNM News

New Mexico’s historic fire season has wiped out over 900,000 acres of land that may not grow back without intervention. While reseeding efforts have already been underway in northern New Mexico, they are now scheduled to begin over southern New Mexico’s McBride Fire burn scar.

KOB-TV reports the seeds will be dropped from aircrafts Thursday and Friday this week over the areas that field assessments determined to have the most severe burns in the Lincoln National Forest. The goal is to reseed more than 335 acres.

As with efforts in the north, initial reseeding is not meant to result in reforestation, which could take years. Instead, crews hope the barley and grass seedlings can help stabilize the soil and prevent debris runoff and erosion into the Rio Ruidoso and Devil Canyon watersheds.

Forest officials will be assisting drivers along Forest Road 120 to ensure safe passage as reseeding is taking place in the area.

Monsoon rains bring more mushroom poisoningsAlbuquerque Journal, KUNM

Officials are warning that the heavy monsoon rains this year have produced a bumper crop of mushrooms, leading to an increased number of poisonings from the fungi.

The Albuquerque Journal reports the New Mexico Poison & Drug Information Center has logged 42 cases of mushroom poisonings this year, surpassing those recorded in all of 2021.

Director of the center Susan Smolinske says there have been no fatalities but there have been many hospitalizations. She warned that many mushroom varieties look alike and distinguishing the edible kind from poisonous spores can be difficult.

Some cause vomiting and diarrhea and those tend to be less dangerous. But mushrooms that contain amatoxin can attack the liver, kidneys and other organs. They have a high fatality rate and symptoms may show up hours later.

People who have symptoms can call the New Mexico Poison & Drug Information Center. Meanwhile experts recommend not eating wild mushrooms and teaching children not to put them in their mouths. Also folks should check lawns for mushrooms and discard them in the trash so children and pets don’t eat them.

New Mexico governor and at least 5,000 New Mexicans have COVID - Austin Fisher, Source New Mexico 

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham on Thursday morning tested positive for COVID-19.

The New Mexico chapter of the survivors’ group Marked by COVID the next day wished Lujan Grisham a speedy recovery and said her infection “underscores the uncontrolled high community spread of the virus in New Mexico and the fact that no one is safe from this potentially deadly and disabling disease.”

The group wrote Lujan Grisham and her acting Health Secretary Dr. David Scrase a letter calling for the return of public health measures like masking that are proven to slow the spread of the virus. As of Monday, the Governor’s Office had not replied to the letter, according to her Press Secretary Nora Meyers Sackett.

“The governor is vaccinated and boosted, with access to high quality health care and the ability to self-isolate and work remotely,” Marked by COVID wrote. “As decision-makers continue to roll back mitigation measures and urge a ‘return to normal,’ they must remember their experience is far from typical for the average New Mexican.”

In the 10 days leading up to the governor’s positive test, at least 5,730 New Mexicans also tested positive, according to state Department of Health data. Official case statistics are likely a significant undercount, and the true number could be many times higher, according to DOH.

Many of those people are not going to be able to stay home from work to isolate themselves because there is no Occupational Safety and Health Administration standard for COVID in any workplace in the U.S.

And many might not have an established relationship with a medical provider, including about 215,000 New Mexicans who are uninsured and often work frontline jobs, which put them at higher risk of catching the virus, according to Health Action New Mexico.

That means they might be less likely to get testing or antiviral medication that can shorten and lessen illness, and potentially decrease her chances of long-COVID effects. Without such access, they are at a higher risk of severe illness and death.

The governor’s statement announcing her infection points out that she is fully vaccinated and boosted, and taking Paxlovid to reduce her risk of severe illness. She encouraged New Mexicans to get the shot.

As of Monday, the governor was still isolating and dealing with congestion and a scratchy throat, Meyers Sackett said.

She said the governor “is very grateful for the robust protections offered to her and others by vaccines and boosters, and for the ready availability of additional effective treatment like Paxlovid.”

“The governor testing positive is also an opportunity to remind New Mexicans of the efficacy and availability of early antiviral treatment, which is available whether or not someone has a primary care provider due to the Test to Treat program,” Meyers Sackett said in a written statement.

She said New Mexicans who test positive for COVID-19 can find providers, Test-to-Treat clinics and nearby pharmacies at this website. She said doing so provides “easy and effective treatment that is also free of cost to all New Mexicans.”

The first thing Hunter Marshall, a registered nurse in Albuquerque, thought when they heard the news was that the governor has access to Paxlovid, and she can use it safely because she has a provider to consult with about whether she is taking any medications that interact with Paxlovid.

“Those who are systematically disadvantaged both in our state and throughout the country will continue to be the ones that bear the highest cost of COVID,” Marshall said. “The burden will fall on them the most heavily, as it always has.”

Marshall runs into many people who — even if they are lucky enough to have access to testing resources and are aware they have COVID — don’t know how to go about getting Paxlovid.

Even if someone nominally has access to Paxlovid or other antivirals, there is still not much known about whether they prevent long COVID, Marshall said.

Asked to comment on the letter, DOH Spokesperson Jodi McGinnis Porter did not address Marked by COVID’s request to reinstate universal masking.

“Fortunately, we are in a completely different place in the COVID-19 pandemic than we were in March of 2020,” McGinnis Porter said. “Today, thanks to vaccines and boosters, tests (PRC and home tests), widely available masks, oral treatments and education, we have a lot of tools at our fingertips to safeguard ourselves and loved ones to help prevent serious illness and death from the virus – and our death and hospitalization numbers bear that out.”

But there are metrics that matter aside from death and hospitalizations, such as long-term disability, Marshall said. And controlling the spread of COVID in the first place is critically important to preventing Long COVID, Marked by COVID wrote.

It’s nice for a public figure to tell the public to get vaccinated, get boosted, and get an antiviral therapeutic, Marshall said, “but for a variety of reasons, that isn’t an option for everybody, and it’s incumbent upon the state to provide as many opportunities and as many options for people to keep themselves safe.”

SURVIVORS GROUP ASKS TO BRING BACK PROTECTIONS

Marshall said they are saddened that the desire to return to some sort of “normal” has meant abandoning evidence-based harm reduction measures like masking when transmission is high, at the expense of some of the most vulnerable in our society.

Marked by COVID implored Lujan Grisham and Scrase to immediately reinstate indoor mask requirements, provide free high-quality masks in public places, and develop and implement clear, data-informed benchmarks for reintroduction of mitigation measures like testing, masking and contact tracing.

Masking is essential to providing freedom of movement to the most vulnerable, Marked by COVID wrote, including seniors, people with disabilities or chronic illnesses, those with long Covid, people of color, LGBTQ+ folks, immigrants and people with low incomes.

It would allow those groups to participate in society and access essential services, they wrote, including seeing a doctor, going to a hospital, picking up prescriptions, getting groceries or renewing a vehicle registration.

These “should not be activities only available to the rich,” who know if they fall sick they have access to fast treatment, paid time off, ample space for isolation, delivery services, child care, and housing, Marked by COVID wrote.

“Many New Mexicans have been shut out of public life because they might not survive a COVID infection,” they wrote. “Many of us are avoiding necessary medical care, and being forced to drastically limit our social, volunteer and professional lives.”

New Mexico and the U.S. as a whole still have an underfunded and understaffed public health system, Marshall said, which limits our ability to have a good sense of the amount of COVID transmitted in the community at any given time and leaves many people on their own when it comes to navigating the risk of catching the virus.

“We understand that the White House is erroneously promoting a victory over COVID-19 in the lead-up to elections and that the CDC has put local leaders in a bind,” Marked by COVID wrote, “but we expect better from New Mexico. It’s why we’re proud to call this state home.”

New Mexico governor issues pardons to 6 people - Associated Press

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham on Monday pardoned six people for convictions ranging from fraud and larceny to burglary and drug trafficking.

The pardons represent another round of clemency decisions for the first-term Democratic governor who is seeking reelection. She has pardoned 56 people overall.

The governor's office said nearly all of the pardoned offenses stem from crimes committed a decade or more ago and all but one involved non-violent offenses.

Among those pardoned was Cynthia Jaramillo, who escaped from serial killer David Parker Ray in 1999. The governor's office said Jaramillo, who had a drug trafficking conviction on her record, has since dedicated her life to supporting women facing homelessness and addiction.

The others were Bridgette Yvette Tabor, Jack Ferguson, Travis Earl Gatling, Randall E. Johnston and Kathleen Woerter.

The governor's pardoning power extends to all crimes committed under state law except for impeachment and treason. A pardon restores certain rights, such as the right to vote and the right to hold public office.

The state Parole Board reviews pardon applications and makes non-binding recommendations to the governor. The board's recommendations for those who benefited from the most recent round of pardons were not immediately available on Monday.

Lujan Grisham's predecessor, Republican Gov. Susana Martinez, pardoned just three people during her eight years in office. Martinez denied at least 72 pardon applications, including 13 in which the state Parole Board had recommended approval.

Lawmakers ask about self-sufficiency of New Mexico spaceport - By Susan Montoya Bryan Associated Press

Some members of a legislative financial oversight committee asked Monday whether Spaceport America will ever be self-sufficient, and they'll likely have to wait months for an answer.

Public funds bankrolled the years-long construction of the desert outpost in southern New Mexico, and figures presented during a meeting of the New Mexico Finance Authority Oversight Committee showed the Legislature provided about $2 million in general fund dollars for the fiscal year that ended this summer.

Another appropriation of state funding is budgeted for the current fiscal year, and executive director Scott McLaughlin told the lawmakers gathered in Truth or Consequences — just west of the spaceport — that the state funds will help to stabilize the budget and allow for hiring additional personnel.

McLaughlin said he has never made promises about being revenue neutral but that about 65% of revenue now comes from customer leases and fees and he hopes to grow that number.

He also told lawmakers the spaceport has broader impacts on economic development in the region, brings in tax revenues and plays a role in educational programs focused on science and technology.

A more comprehensive study is being done to answer questions about self-sufficiency and economic effects, McLaughlin said. It could be six months before a report is released.

The spaceport is home to anchor tenant Virgin Galactic, and a handful of other aerospace ventures have used the port for testing and vertical launches. Virgin Galactic anticipates commercial flights in 2023.

Sen. Joseph Cervantes, a Las Cruces Democrat, noted that Virgin Galactic's stock price is a fraction of what it was when the company went public. He also pointed to recent announcements that the company's special carrier planes and rocket ships would be built out of state, while taxpayers in Dona Ana and Sierra counties continue to see a portion of their sales tax go toward paying off construction bonds for the spaceport.

"This is a very detailed, complicated issue that we need more time on," Cervantes said, adding that continued oversight will be key.

Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto, an Albuquerque Democrat and the committee's chairman, urged spaceport officials to look for ways to get into what he called the freight business, in which more companies are launching satellites and looking for options when it comes to re-entry for rockets and capsules.

While the notion of launching paying customers into space is romantic, he said "there's a significant amount of business that could be made in freight."

Supreme Court climate ruling could impact nuclear waste case - By Matthew Daly Associated Press

The Supreme Court's landmark ruling on climate change could have implications for a range of other issues, including a case involving nuclear waste storage and a proposal requiring companies to disclose how climate risk affects their businesses, advocates across the political spectrum say.

Two Republican attorneys general — including the West Virginia official who successfully challenged Environmental Protection Agency rules restricting greenhouse gas emissions by power plants — say the Supreme Court ruling applies more broadly to other executive branch actions. And in at least one case, environmental groups appear to agree.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton says the court's June 30 ruling, which limited how the nation's main anti-air pollution law can be used to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, can be used to block a federal license issued to a private facility to store radioactive waste in his state.

West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, fresh off a win in the climate case, says he will challenge a proposal by the Securities and Exchange Commission to require companies to report on their climate risks, including those related to the physical impact of storms, drought and higher temperatures caused by global warming.

The court's 6-3 ruling said EPA violated the "major questions" doctrine in regulating greenhouse gas emissions by power plants. The decision held that Congress must speak with specificity when it wants to give an agency authority to regulate on an issue of major national significance.

Several conservative justices have criticized what they see as the unchecked power of federal agencies.

Some legal experts suggested the Supreme Court ruling also might be cited in challenges to President Joe Biden's announcement last week that the administration would provide $10,000 in student debt cancellation for millions of Americans — and up to $10,000 more for those with the greatest financial need.

Jay Duffy, an attorney for the environmental group Clean Air Task Force, said the ruling in the West Virginia case "set an exceptionally high bar'' for executive-branch agencies to act on a variety of issues without triggering the major questions doctrine.

That's problematic, Duffy wrote in a blog post, "because Congress generally writes laws in broad terms such that they can be adapted to changing problems and solutions by the technical experts working at agencies to address public health, safety and the environment.''

In the Texas case, Paxton contended in a court filing soon after the high court ruling that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission lacked specific direction from Congress when it licensed a private company to temporarily store spent, radioactive waste in west Texas near the border with New Mexico.

The ruling in West Virginia v. EPA "confirms that this case implicates the major questions doctrine," Paxton's office said in a letter to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which is hearing the state's challenge in the nuclear case.

In a political twist, environmental groups that oppose the waste-storage plan also invoked the West Virginia case.

"No federal agency is above the law," said Diane Curran, a lawyer for Beyond Nuclear, an advocacy group that opposes nuclear power.

The group argues in a separate case before the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals that a license issued to Texas-based Interim Storage Partners to store thousands of metric tons of spent nuclear fuel for up to 40 years is invalid because "it ignored the unambiguous mandates of the Nuclear Waste Policy Act" to store nuclear waste at a now-abandoned site at Nevada's Yucca Mountain.

"Only Congress can decide whether to abandon one of its primary strategies for ensuring the completion of a federal repository" for nuclear waste, Curran said.

Like Paxton and Morrisey, Curran said federal agencies appear to be going beyond their authority delegated by Congress.

"I do think there are policy issues here that are enormous,'' she said in an interview. "It's disturbing that the NRC put its oar in on a policy decision that belongs to Congress,'' namely, where to store nuclear waste.

Wallace Taylor, a lawyer who represents the Sierra Club on nuclear issues, said he appreciates the irony that environmental groups are siding with staunch conservatives such as Paxton and Morrisey in the nuclear dispute.

"My enemy is my friend" when interests coincide, he said with a chuckle.

"It's certainly a major question,'' Taylor added, referring to nuclear waste storage. "Tens of thousands of tons of nuclear waste" must be disposed of "and there's no authority in the Nuclear Waste Policy Act to license interim storage,'' he said. "All they can license is a permanent repository'' at Yucca Mountain, a project that has been mothballed for more than a decade and faces strong bipartisan opposition.

The NRC, in a legal filing in the 5th Circuit case, said the Texas license is not an example of overreach because the agency has "longstanding" authority on the issue, including in the 1954 Atomic Energy Act.

"The materials license issued here reflects a conventional exercise of NRC's longstanding and exclusive authority over a matter that lies at the core of its expertise,'' the agency wrote.

Congress has "clearly and expressly" granted authority to the NRC to license offsite nuclear fuel storage facilities, including in the 1954 law, the agency added.

Edwin Lyman, director of nuclear power safety at the Union of Concerned Scientists, said Paxton's argument that the NRC lacks authority to license nuclear waste storage is dangerous. "While we have concerns about consolidated spent fuel storage safety and security, if @NRCgov were stripped of ALL authority to regulate #nuclear waste there would be utter chaos,'' Lyman tweeted.

In formal comments filed with the SEC, meanwhile, 21 Republican attorneys general led by Morrisey argue that the securities agency is trying to transform itself from a financial overseer "into the regulator of broader social ills," including climate change

"The woke left is going full throttle in their mission to change every facet of American life, businesses and erode our democratic institutions to suit their liberal agenda," Morrisey said. "The Biden administration wants to radically transform the SEC and other agencies run by unelected bureaucrats and make them champions of climate change, regardless of what those agencies' functions are.''

Biden, he added, "is creating a federal bureaucracy to suit his agenda."