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New leader of NM Voices for Children says more families need support

Amber Wallin, new executive director for NM Voices for Children
NM Voices for Children
Amber Wallin, executive director of NM Voices for Children

New Mexico’s immigrant, refugee and non-English speaking families are some of the hardest hit with financial burdens during the pandemic and beyond, and many aren’t eligible for COVID relief or state support. Many who are eligible for state support often can’t access the applications that are only in English and sometimes Spanish. Amber Wallin, who was named executive director of New Mexico Voices for Children at the beginning of this year after being with the child advocacy organization since 2012, is working to change inequities in access to financial support.

AMBER WALLIN: I think one of the most important things the state should be focusing on now is providing economic relief and safety net support to those that still need assistance. One of the things that's interesting about the recovery that we've seen in New Mexico -- because there are a lot of signs of economic recovery, we've certainly seen those -- but when you look a little bit closer, it's pretty disproportionate. We know that high income earners are seeing better economic situations than they did prior to the pandemic. But we know that low-income earners still have a lot of ground to gain just to get back to where they were. So we think that there should be economic relief focused on those families, focused on immigrants who are left out of a lot of federal relief, focused on mothers, especially mothers of color, providing economic relief in the form of cash assistance, safety net supports, tax rebates, those one-time relief moneys that can really make a difference for families that we know are still struggling.

KUNM: In 2020 and 2021, I was talking with women who were early childhood educators working in childcare centers that did not close during the pandemic, and some of them were undocumented, which meant they were unable to access any of the stimulus checks, unemployment insurance, or even help to keep their children in childcare centers where they were working while they were taking care of children of doctors and nurses and other frontline workers. How do we support undocumented workers?

WALLIN: Women, women of color and especially immigrant women, immigrant families, disproportionately make up those frontline workers, those workers that were keeping our economy afloat during the pandemic. One in 12 New Mexico residents are immigrants and 38,000, New Mexico kidshave at least one parent who doesn't have full documentation. We also know that those families are really disproportionately left out of federal relief. In those early months of the pandemic, they were left out of federal stimulus payments. So that money that was so crucial for helping families during those early months when everything was shut down, that largely didn't go to our mixed-status families. There have been improvements on that front, and more is still needed. So what we saw in 2021 is that the state expanded eligibility for what's known as our Working Families Tax Credit , they expanded eligibility to include immigrants, regardless of immigration status. So if you're working in New Mexico, you're contributing and paying taxes, you now are able to get that tax credit. So that's great.

KUNM: So the federal child income tax credit that gave families a few hundred dollars every month just ended. What does that mean for families in New Mexico?

WALLIN: We know it lifted tens of thousands of New Mexico kids out of poverty during those months when families in our state received that additional piece. And with that program, ending there's going to be some dire financial straits for so many of our families, unfortunately, and by looking at the data about how families were using that relief, we know that for families who spent it, they were using it to buy food and to pay for housing. So those are basic essentials that were helping families just survive. And without that money, it's going to be much harder for families with kids to do that. We think it's crucial that those expansions on the child tax credit are part of any federal relief programs. And then long term, New Mexico as a state that we should be considering a child tax credit at the state level, because we know that programs like the Child Tax Credit, are some of the most evidence-based effective policies for improving outcomes.

KUNM: So one issue is that certain families are not eligible for federal relief. But another issue is that families who are eligible for some of this relief can't access it because the applications are largely in English and some Spanish. What is New Mexico Voices for Children doing to address language access issues, for families who need assistance?

WALLIN: If families are not able to access an application, if when they're calling the state there's not an availability of somebody to talk to them in their language, then we know that that can shut off so many of our families from really critical relief that needs to be provided. We are hopeful about language access legislation that's being put through this year that will help ensure that agencies have the resources that they need to improve language access to their programs.

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