SAT: U.S Health and Human Services Department awards grants to Native tribes to implement Mental Health Hotline, New GOP Las Cruces Center aims at Hispanic outreach, + More
US to award $35M in grants to tribes for 988 crisis line – By Felicia Fonseca, Associated Press
Most people in Santa Clara Pueblo in northern New Mexico know each other. So when a tribal member needs mental health services or help for substance abuse, calling a tribal office might lead to an aunt, cousin or other relative.
Confidentiality is important, pueblo Gov. Michael Chavarria said shortly after federal officials visited to talk about new grant funding available for tribes to spread the word about a nationwide mental health crisis hotline.
"That's the hesitancy, but again they have to be strong enough to want to get that help," Chavarria said Friday. "And that's what we're here for, to help them the best way we can."
The 988 Lifeline went live in June. It's designed to be an easy number to remember, similar to 911. Instead of dispatcher sending police, firefighters or paramedics, 988 connects callers with trained mental health counselors. People also can text the number or chat with counselors online.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced Friday that it's making $35 million in grant funding available to Native American and Alaska Native tribes to ensure callers receive culturally sensitive support as well as follow-up care if needed. The deadline to apply is Oct. 25.
The reach will be limited, a fact often criticized by tribes who say they are forced to compete against each other for limited resources. Any of the 574 federally recognized tribes are eligible to apply, along with tribal organizations. Up to 100 grants will be awarded.
The funding is part of $150 million set aside for the 988 hotline in a bill addressing gun violence and mental health that President Joe Biden signed in June. Overall, the federal government has provided $432 million to expand the network of crisis counselors and telephone infrastructure, and help educate the public on the 988 hotline — some of which was available to states and territories as grants.
Chavarria said the tribal police chief is planning to meet with other tribal departments soon to talk about applying for a grant and what it might cover.
"Right now we just don't know," he said. "That's the planning phase we're in right now. At least it's being afforded. It's a matter of how do we leverage that with other resources we have, fill the gaps."
Chavarria sees a need because of the social isolation brought on by COVID-19 and the pueblo being in New Mexico, a state that has some of the highest death rates from alcohol and drug overdoses. Native Americans and Alaska Natives also are disproportionately impacted by violent crime and suicide, federal data shows.
"It has to be a well-rounded, collaborative effort to put a damper on this," Chavarria said. "Because sometimes it just revolves in that family and extended family into the community, to the local, regional and national (level). It is a challenging issue for all of us."
Miriam Delphin-Rittmon, assistant secretary for Mental Health and Substance Use at Health and Human Services, was among the federal officials who visited Santa Clara and Jemez pueblos, and Albuquerque, New Mexico, this week.
She said some of the challenges she heard from tribal leaders in accessing funding include a lack of resources to apply for grants, unreliable internet and cell phone services, and a widespread shortage of mental health specialists and culturally appropriate care.
"The thing we appreciated is that we had frank discussions," Delphin-Rittmon said. "We encourage them and thank them when they push us, and that's helpful. I think it really helps for there to be understanding."
There's no guarantee funding will be available in the future to raise awareness of 988 because it's appropriated through Congress, Delphin-Rittmon said. Tribes also have opportunities for funding through other federal grant programs for training for emergency response, overdose prevention and mental health, she said.
The gauge on whether the funding works as intended isn't numbers alone, she said, but anecdotal evidence from tribes.
The 988 system is built on the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, a network of crisis centers where counselors field millions of calls each year. The 1-800-273-8255 number still works, even with 988 in place.
The first full month of data from the 988 Lifeline in August showed an increase of 152,000 calls, chats and texts over August 2021. The average time to answer those contacts decreased from 2.5 minutes to 42 seconds, according to Health and Human Services.
GOP focuses on Hispanic voters with new Las Cruces center – Associated Press
The New Mexico Republican Party is bolstering efforts to reach Hispanic voters before the midterm elections with a new outreach center in Las Cruces.
Some GOP candidates and their supporters were on hand for the opening of the center inside a strip mall earlier this week.
The Las Cruces Sun-News reports Mercedes Provencio Hollister will run the center as regional Hispanic event coordinator.
Provencio Hollister urges any Hispanic voter to come and ask questions.
State GOP Chair Steve Pearce says more Republican candidates and organizers need to go into communities where they have previously lagged.
The center is just one of nearly 40 Republican Hispanic Community Centers nationwide.
Maddy Mundy, a spokesperson with the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, told the newspaper Democrats have always engaged with Hispanic voters. They don't just do it "eight weeks out from Election Day."
Learning from NM mistakes, Forest Service to better heed drought factor before burns – By Patrick Lohmann, Source New Mexico
The United States Forest Service announced big changes to the way it will authorize prescribed burns in light of mistakes the agency made in igniting what became the biggest wildfire in New Mexico’s recorded history.
The agency released a 107-page review of its prescribed burn practices on Thursday. It came after a 90-day pause on prescribed burns across the country ordered after such burns escaped in New Mexico. The fires the agency set fed on drought and dry conditions, and went on to consume homes, forcing thousands to flee.
The agency then halted burns nationwide to ensure protocols were adequate. While prescribed burns rarely escape, Forest Service Chief Randy Moore acknowledged in the report, one errant blaze can be disastrous for everyone nearby.
“We cannot underestimate how destructive prescribed fire escapes can be,” he wrote in the introduction of the agency’s findings.
Now that the review is complete, prescribed burns can begin again across the country, Moore wrote. But federal forest managers will first need to review all existing plans for burns in their areas, even plans that were completed recently.
In addition, top officials who authorize burns will need to consider more factors before they’re allowed to give the OK, and the plans that guide their ignitions will only be effective for 24 hours, not weeks or months, as they were before. So officials will have to re-authorize a prescribed burn the day before it is lit every time.
In the case of the Dispensas burn in New Mexico that became the Hermits Peak wildfire, an administrator signed off on the burn on March 24 to occur between April 1 and April 30. Crews ignited the fire April 6.
Moore approved seven immediate changes to the prescribed burn approvals, and said the agency will make more adjustments down the road.
NM to expand broadband in rural and tribal areas that were ‘left behind for a long time’ – By Megan Gleason, Source New Mexico
With millions of dollars in funding from the federal government, New Mexico is trying to expand high-speed internet access across the state, especially in rural and tribal areas, where many have unreliable or out-of-date infrastructure and feel they get largely ignored.
Local, state, federal and tribal officials met on Wednesday in Los Ranchos to discuss the need for better internet access, with reasons ranging from health care and education access to starting a small business.
“Broadband connectivity is no longer a luxury. It’s a necessity,” said Santa Ana Pueblo Gov. Joey Sanchez at the event. “Broadband is a utility, like running water into a home, a road system, electrical power line. Broadband enables the day-to-day functions of a community.”
He said he’s glad tribal communities, who sometimes get left out in legislation, are included in this funding initiative. Many people living on tribal lands are at a disadvantage without good internet access, he said, including with their health care.
Community members traveled from all over the state to talk with officials and ask questions about how the push for broadband will impact them.
The United States Department of Agriculture announced in July an allocation of over $100 million in broadband grants and loans for the installation and expansion of internet services, that money serving primarily New Mexico but also Arizona. In addition, Rep. Melanie Stansbury said at the event that another almost $150 million is expected to go toward tribal communities’ broadband projects specifically.
Retired Edgewood teacher Evelyn Vinogradov said while this funding is good, it’s not enough. “That’s a drop in the bucket for what we need,” she said.
The state’s broadband office is in the process of applying for more funding. But it’s about a five-year process, recently appointed Director Kelly Schlegel said, and the team is understaffed. They’re trying to hire more workers, she said.
Stansbury’s spokesperson Julia Friedmann said the federal grant money has already been obligated, so it should be available now or very soon. Awardees have to pay costs upfront first, then get reimbursed, she said.
But materials for projects may not be readily accessible due to supply-chain problems related to COVID.
“I think every single entity, whether it is a public works project or somebody trying to remodel their home, is dealing with supply-chain issues right now,” Stansbury said. “It’s a global problem.”
Stansbury said while the federal government is working on the issue, she expects it will resolve itself and goods will become more available over the next six months.
The federal government is communicating with rural partners on the ground for these projects, said Xochitl Torres Small, a former southern N.M. congressional representative who today is the USDA rural development under secretary. “We’re trying to change the way that federal government listens to people in rural areas,” she said.
Vinogradov, rural caucus chair for the Democratic Party of New Mexico, said she experienced internet issues all the time as an educator in Edgewood.
“I want them to see us. They already know who we are,” Vinogradov said. “I want them to realize that the rural communities are watching them and monitoring them, in a good way.”
Don Topper, mayor of Cochiti Lake, said he hasn’t seen enough attention and infrastructure development in less densely populated areas.
“We have a lot of issues. Rural New Mexico has been left behind for a long time,” he said. “It’s not just New Mexico. It’s every state.”
Topper said there’s been an influx of people with good salaries moving into his community to get away from cities, which could benefit the local economy. But they need to work remotely, he said, and that requires good internet access, which they don’t yet have.
“If we don’t seize the opportunity to get a long-term strategy for rural New Mexico,” he said, “it’s not going to end well.”