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THURS: NM Speaker touts state’s early childhood programs before congressional committee, + More

New Mexico House Speaker Javier Martinez addresses the Joint Economic Committee in Washington D.C. on Wednesday, April 10, 2024.
Courtesy Joint Economic Committee
New Mexico House Speaker Javier Martinez addresses the Joint Economic Committee in Washington D.C. on Wednesday, April 10, 2024.

NM Speaker touts state’s early childhood programs before congressional committee - By Patrick Lohmann, Source New Mexico

The speaker of the New Mexico House of Representatives told a joint congressional committee Wednesday that the state’s strategy for early childhood education and services leads the nation and should be replicated.

State Rep. Javier Martinez (D-Albuquerque) spoke before the Joint Economic Committee, chaired by U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-NM), on Wednesday in Washington, D.C. Other expert witnesses included national child and education advocates across the political spectrum, including from the conservative Heritage Foundation and Cato Institute.

Martinez described a “robust” array of services for very young children and their parents as essential investments for the state’s future success.

In 2022, the state tapped its Land Grant Permanent Fund to provide about $127 million annually for early childhood education after voters passed a measure approving the transfer The state in 2020 also created an Early Childhood Trust Fund, which Martinez said is projected to grow to nearly$445 million by mid-2027.

All those investments, Martinez told the committee, will help tackle the enormous challenges facing New Mexico children: 80% of births in the state are to parents on Medicaid, and more than half of children are born into a single parent household.

“When we talk about it taking a village to raise a child in New Mexico, we are having to rebuild that village,” Martinez said. “And that is the work that we’ve undertaken over the last few years.”

Heinrich, in his opening remarks, said the recent actions in New Mexico have increased childcare provider pay and allowed some parents to return to careers they’d put on hold to raise their children.

But the notion of universal pre-Kindergarten and childcare drew criticism from congressional Republicans and the experts they invited, who said the evidence that such programs were effective was out-dated and said they are designed to push more parents into the workforce even if they’d prefer to stay home raising their kids.

“I’m sure a lot of single moms – and a lot of dads, too – would like to spend more time at home with their children during those formative years,” Sen. J.D. Vance (R-Ohio) said. “And our answer to them is you’ve got to go to the workforce because that’s what’s going to raise GDP.”

One exchange in the 90-minute hearing focused on whether Congress, instead of making childcare and pre-K universal, should expand the use of tax-exempt savings accounts to help parents pay for education expenses while one parent cares for the child at home.

So-called 529 savings accounts were expanded viaTrump-era tax reforms to allow parents to use them to pay for K-12 education, not just college. Lindsay Burke, director of the Heritage Foundation’s Center for Education Policy, called on Congress to go a step further: Allowing parents to also use the accounts for childcare and pre-Kindergarten.

“You tell everybody in your family, ‘Contribute to my 529,’” she said. “You’re then able to build a pretty decent nest egg, by the time you are eligible for preschool, to actually pay for that out of pocket.”

But Heinrich, who said he is generally supportive of those tax-free education savings accounts, said that wouldn’t be enough to allow people in New Mexico, in particular, to afford paying for preschool or college.

“The reality of most New Mexicans, most of my constituents, when their freshmen, college age, children start university, they don’t have a 529 of any substantial means,” he said.

Martinez agreed, citing the low federal minimum wage, saying that families simply can’t afford to stay home with their kids.

“How can you afford to stay at home with your newborn?” he said. “This is not about forcing people into the workforce for the purposes of increasing GDP. This is about families and being able to raise and nurture our children.”

The full hearing is here.

City hunts for Westside shelter operator - By Damon Scott, City Desk ABQ

The city is searching for someone to take on a complex assignment: staff and operate the Westside Emergency Housing Center (WEHC) for hundreds of people experiencing homelessness.

The facility is located about 20 miles west of Downtown near the Double Eagle II Airport. Its remote location is typically accessed through shuttle services departing from pickup points near Downtown and the International District.

The taxpayer-funded WEHC is critical to addressing the needs of hundreds of men, women and couples over age 18 that it serves. While clients arrive in differing stages of distress, all need a safe place to sleep. Officials say the majority of those who stay would otherwise be on the street. WEHC’s population includes older adults, the medically vulnerable, people living with mental illness or substance use disorders, and those who are chronically homeless or newly homeless. There is no limit to how long people can stay.

However imperfect WEHC’s location or appearance may be, the need for it has increased over time. WEHC was originally intended to be a temporary, emergency shelter and operated as such. Today it is a year round, 24/7 operation.


Homelessness services provider Albuquerque Heading Home has operated WEHC since 2021. Its current $4.1 million contract expires June 30. According to its contract, about $3.1 million is designated to pay the wages of administrators, program directors, facility managers, dorm monitors, case managers, shuttle drivers, custodians and security guards. The remaining amount of about $1 million funds a variety of operation costs.

The city issued a request for proposals (RFP) in March for an agency to take over operations when Heading Home’s contract expires June 30.

The RFP — which once again offers up to $4.1 million in funding — expires April 12 at 6 p.m. It’s not clear whether Heading Home, which maintains other homeless services contracts with the city, will resubmit a bid. Calls to executives were not immediately returned this week.

To submit a proposal visit the city’s procurement portal here.

Meanwhile, the city’s Health, Housing & Homelessness (HHH) department, which oversees the contract, said Wednesday that it has been in touch with “multiple agencies” and looks forward to reviewing the submissions.

It will be a short turnaround time for the debut of a new operator; one tasked with providing for an estimated 2,200 unique clients a year — an average of 400 people per night.

The shelter is able to sleep roughly 640 people in all. The WEHC operator must coordinate medical and supportive services, meals, laundry services, security, sanitation and cleaning and the “orderly use” of common areas. The operator is also charged with providing bus monitors on arriving and departing transport vehicles.


Both the city and Heading Home describe WEHC on their respective websites as a place that offers “a safe and welcoming environment,” although the characterization is arguable. Although the facility has seen a share of recent city-funded improvements (upgrades to dorms, bathrooms, floors and lighting) its history as a former Bernalillo County jail can still be felt. WEHC’s high perimeter fences once featured coils of razor wire and some still have barbed wire, even though no one is forced to stay. The interior has also been described as having the look of a detention center.

“The real question about the WEHC is simply stated: If you don’t have it, where are the hundreds of people using it to go?” Daymon Ely, an adviser to Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller on homelessness, told City Desk ABQ.

Ely said there needs to be short and long term solutions in place for WEHC, a cornerstone of a policy proposal he recently submitted to the city.

“In the short term, improve the WEHC so that it is not just habitable, but a place that will attract the homeless to stay,” he said. “And as we move forward, have real alternatives and housing to eliminate or minimize the need for [it].”

Ely added that his preference would be that a government entity — like the city or Bernalillo County — consider operating the facility.

“With a shelter, a private provider adds a layer of expense that does not make sense,” he said. “No one should be operating a shelter with a view towards being in the ‘black’ [whether a for-profit or nonprofit entity].”

Ely said if WEHC were city or county-run, it would provide more “immediate transparency and accountability.”

“These shelters are difficult to run and maintain. Having direct public oversight is one way of keeping pressure on the facility manager,” he said. “And there is a very limited pool of people both willing and capable to run a shelter the size of WEHC. With less competition, the risk is greater that the private operator will not work out.”

'Forever chemicals' are found in water sources around New Mexico, studies find - Associated Press

So-called forever chemicals have been found in water sources across New Mexico, according to recent studies by the U.S. Geological Survey and state environment officials.

The federal agency detailed the findings Wednesday, the same day the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced its first-ever limits for several common types of PFAS, or perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances.

Used in everyday products from nonstick pans and firefighting foam to waterproof clothing, PFAS have been linked to cancer and other health problems in humans. They are known as forever chemicals because they don't degrade in the environment and remain in the bloodstream.

The research in New Mexico detected PFAS in all major rivers in the arid state, with the highest concentrations downstream of urban areas.

USGS researchers looked more closely at water quality in the Rio Grande as it flows through Albuquerque, New Mexico's largest city, and found PFAS levels downstream that were about 10 times higher than at upstream locations.

Dozens of samples also were taken from groundwater wells and surface water sites as part of an initial statewide survey between August 2020 and October 2021, with officials saying the majority of wells sampled did not turn up PFAS. The work began after contamination was discovered at military installations.

Andy Jochems of the Environment Department's water protection team said the latest findings will be helpful as regulators make decisions about protecting drinking water resources in the future.

Kimberly Beisner, a USGS hydrologist and lead author of the studies, said the work highlights the complex nature of chemicals in urban areas and their effects on river systems. She noted that concentrations near cities are constantly changing due to wastewater discharges and stormwater runoff, for example.

The utility that serves the Albuquerque area has not seen any PFAS concentrations in the drinking water system approaching the EPA limits, so officials said Wednesday they aren't anticipating that the new regulations will require any action other than continued monitoring and reporting.

As for contaminants from Albuquerque going into the Rio Grande, utility spokesman David Morris said it's possible that at some point there may need to be enhancements at the city's sewage treatment plant.

Arizona's abortion ban is likely to cause a scramble for services in states where it's still legal - By Laura Ungar and Devi Shastri Associated Press

Adrienne Mansanares expects a flurry of calls from patients in Arizona starting this week.

She's the president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains, which has clinics that provide abortions in Colorado, New Mexico and Nevada. Mansanares said the clinics should be able to accommodate people who are seeking the procedure in the wake of an Arizona Supreme Court decision.

"That is still a very long way for patients to go for health care," she added, noting that the clinics already have seen nearly 700 patients from Arizona since Roe v. Wade was overturned in June 2022.

Doctors and clinic leaders said there'll be a scramble across the Southwest and West for abortion care due to Tuesday's decision, which said officials may enforce an 1864 law criminalizing all abortions except when a woman's life is at stake.

"People are going to have to start looking out of state," said Dr. Maria Phillis, an Ohio OB-GYN who also has a law degree. "This is now another place where they can't go safety to access care."

On top of potentially long distances to states like New Mexico, California and Colorado, patients who used to go to Arizona from other states for abortion care will have to go elsewhere, Phillis said.

Plus, Arizona is home to more than 20 federally recognized tribes, and barriers are expected to be higher for Native Americans because of existing hurdles, such as a decades-old ban on most abortions at clinics and hospitals run by the federal Indian Health Service and fewer nearby health centers offering abortions.

Interstate travel for abortions nearly doubled between 2020 and 2023, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a research group that supports abortion rights. Out-of-state patients accounted for 16% of abortions obtained nationally, compared to 9% in 2020, the group said.

Guttmacher data scientist Isaac Maddow-Zimet said that when bans go into effect, more people travel to less restrictive or non-restrictive states, but "not everybody is able to" travel.

Traveling could mean pushing abortions later into pregnancy as people try to get appointments and potentially face mandatory waiting periods. According to results of a periodic survey spearheaded by Middlebury College economics professor Caitlin Myers, waits in several states stretched for two or three weeks at various points since federal abortion protections were overturned; some clinics had no available appointments.

The Brigid Alliance works nationally to help people who need abortions receive financial and logistical support like airfare, child care, lodging and other associated costs. Last year, it helped 26 people travel out of Arizona to get abortions.

Interim executive director Serra Sippel expects the number of calls from Arizona residents to grow.

People that the alliance has helped go out of state — mostly from Georgia, Texas and Florida — have seen backlogs stretching to four to five weeks because of higher demand, Sippel said. Some get bounced between clinics because their pregnancy has passed the point that they can get care there.

"With a pregnancy, every moment counts," said Sippel, who added that delays can have serious repercussions. Phillis noted procedures done later in a pregnancy could take longer and be slightly more complicated.

The Abortion Fund of Arizona, which helps people travel for abortions both in and out of state, said out-of-state clinics have required patients to stay to take the second pill used in medication abortions because of concerns about liability. That means multi-day trips, said Eloisa Lopez, executive director of Pro-Choice Arizona and the abortion fund.

"We're looking at anywhere from $1,000 to $2,000 per person for travel expenses, with their abortion procedure expense," Lopez said.

The fund is talking with municipalities in Arizona to see if they can create their own abortion funds.

Meanwhile, in Tucson, a CEO of a pregnancy center that opposes abortion said things are likely to stay the same under the new law. Hands of Hope Tucson has been around for 43 years, is about 200 steps from a Planned Parenthood clinic and is pretty busy, CEO Joanie Hammond said.

"We're just coming alongside women and men who are facing an unexpected pregnancy … We've always been about the women and about the babies," she told the AP. "At the pregnancy center, I see the women and I see what happens to them after they go through that abortion experience. We just want to be there to help them in the next step for healing and whatever they need."

For Arizona residents who are closer to California, which expanded its abortion protections after Roe v. Wade was overturned, officials are pointing people toward the Abortion Safe Haven Project. Created by the state and Los Angeles County, the project has guidance and resources for out-of-state patients.

Planned Parenthood of the Pacific Southwest put out a statement this week from president and CEO Darrah DiGiorgio Johnson, saying it supports out-of-state patients with navigation services to help them tackle logistical barriers to care.


The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute's Science and Educational Media Group and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

Dust up at the Bernalillo County Commission meeting - By Carolyn Carlson,City Desk ABQ

This story was originally published by City Desk ABQ

Drama dominated the Bernalillo County Commission meeting Tuesday night after one commissioner — Steven Michael Quezada — left the governing table in a huff.

In doing so, a couple of pieces of legislation he had introduced, including his version of a county manager selection process and a message to the governor, were not debated and died for lack of a second.

On Wednesday, Commission Chair Barbara Baca told City Desk ABQ that she was disappointed in Quezada’s behavior at the commission meeting. Baca said robust discussions and disagreements are part of the democratic deliberative process.

“I am saddened that he feels walking out of a commission meeting is a way to make policy. People can judge for themselves if that is a way for a commissioner to behave,” she said.


The dust up started with a debate over two choices for how to go about picking the next county manager, as Julie Morgas Baca will retire at the end of June.

Last month, Commissioners Quezada and Walt Benson proposed a selection process that would include securing an outside professional recruitment firm. He proposed that all information be presented to the commissioners, so they can select and interview finalists. Quezada said this process was based on what Albuquerque Public Schools did during its superintendent search. This was deferred at the March 19 meeting but was back on the dais for Tuesday’s meeting.

However, Baca had her own version of a selection process up first. Her proposal includes a national search, establishing a local search committee and public engagement. Baca said Juan Vigil, former Bernalillo and Sandoval county manager, will serve as the search committee chair alongside Tim Cummins, Maggie Hart-Stebbins, Yolanda Cordova-Montoya and Venice Caballos.

Quezada asked for a friendly amendment to the bill to allow each commissioner to appoint one person to sit on the five person vetting committee, instead of having Baca pick all five.

“You have to give a voice to the people who voted me in and you have to give a voice to the people who voted Commissioner Benson in,” Quezada said.

But Commissioner Eric Olivas said that Quezada’s amendment — to allow each commissioner to pick a member — politicizes the vetting selection process.

“The individuals that are in this resolution on this proposed search committee are just in my opinion the best and most qualified, most competent to get this done,” Olivas said.

Quezada’s amendment went nowhere, causing a heated exchange between commissioners.

“We are following best practices,” Baca said. “This resolution is quite thorough and more than we are required by the charter.”

Benson said he was not contacted by the chair about the selection of the vetting committee. He said he found out about the vetting choices from a constituent who called him to tell him about the five member vetting committee.

“I just want you to put yourself in those shoes if you had found out by one of your constituents. How would you feel? How would your constituents feel?” he said.

Quezada asked for a point of personal privilege to express his discontent.

“This commission has missed the point,” he said. “Why am I here? I can represent my constituents better in my office than I can do from here. My time is better served at my commission desk in my office.”

That’s when Quezada stormed out of the chambers.

In the end, Baca’s resolution was approved on a 3 to 1 vote, with Quezada not present for the vote.


In response to allegations by Quezada and Benson that they were not contacted, Baca said she reached out to the commission before putting together her proposal.

“I am trying very hard to include the whole commission in this process,” she said. “We looked at the breadth of issues. It was not done in a vacuum and it does not usurp the commission in the process.”

Quezada continued to disagree and issued the following statement to City Desk ABQ, saying he made the decision to walk out of the meeting because “I refuse to stand idly by while my constituents’ voices are ignored.”

“I am deeply disappointed by the actions of Commissioners Baca, Olivas, and Barboa, who persist in silencing the voices of residents in District 2 and District 4,” he said. “Their habits for backroom deals and decisions made without transparency is unacceptable. The selection process they’ve crafted for the new county manager lacks inclusivity and raises concerns of a rigged outcome aimed at installing someone who will serve their interests, neglecting the voices of those who disagree with them, and silencing the residents of the unincorporated areas of Bernalillo County.”


Since Quezada left the table, his vote was not taken on some important county issues.

The commission:

· Did not approve a message to Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham giving county support for the building of a Netherwood Park Playground. This was sponsored by Quezada, but he was not there for the agenda call, so it died for a lack of a second.

· Approved the biennial budget of $442,239,755 for FY25 and $456,271,745 for FY26.

· Approved a memorandum of understanding between Bernalillo County, the city of Albuquerque and Vital Strategies for the development of an Opioid Settlement Fund Strategic Plan.

· Approved an award for a 4-year $1,000,000 contract to the Partnership for Community Action to provide workforce and entrepreneurial development services to Black, Indigenous, people of color, women-owned and underserved businesses in the county.