MON: State Offers $100 Vaccination Incentive, Girl Scouts Have Millions Of Unsold Cookies, + More

Jun 14, 2021

New Mexico Banks On Cash Incentives To Meet Vaccine Goal - By Susan Montoya Bryan, Associated Press

New Mexico residents who get vaccinated against COVID-19 will now be eligible for a $100 incentive as the state began a hard push Monday.

The New Mexico Department of Health has announced the reward for anyone who gets their second dose of Pfizer or Moderna or the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine by Thursday.

State health officials are trying to reach a goal of having 60% of New Mexico residents age 16 and up fully vaccinated this week. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has vowed to end the state's color-coded risk system two weeks after the vaccination goal is reached, meaning businesses would be able to fully reopen.

The campaign included emails from various state agencies urging people to get their shots. The leader of the New Mexico Senate, Democrat Mimi Stewart of Albuquerque, sent out her own emails declaring: "It's vaccine time!" Stewart's emails also included suggestions for social media posts and email language that could be shared with friends and family.

Republican lawmakers have long criticized the state's reopening framework as outdated. The Democratic governor also has faced heat from business owners over her handling of the pandemic, and from parents for what many have described as a lost year of learning after schools were forced to go virtual and for their children's inability to participate last year in extracurricular activities.

The latest incentive is on top of the state's "Vax 2 the Max" program, where vaccinated residents can win prizes from a pool totaling $10 million. The rewards include a $5 million grand prize.

New Mexico will hold its first drawings Friday for four prizes of $250,000 each.

Lujan Grisham says the lottery program is funded by federal pandemic relief money.

Vaccination rates have slowed over recent weeks. The latest data from the state puts vaccinations at about 58%.

The sweepstakes kept numbers from declining further but the boost was small. According to the state, the seven-day average of new vaccination registrations was 1,437 per day during the first week of the contest — just 85 more per day that the previous week.

The Health Department acknowledged Monday that there is more vaccine supply than demand.

Department spokesman David Morgan said in an email to The Associated Press that New Mexico is trying to adapt in several ways, including ordering only a minimal number of doses.

There is a large amount of inventory in freezers around the state, but Morgan did not say how many doses are in storage or how long it will be before they expire.

"We are working as hard as we can to get doses into arms all around the state," he said, pointing to the cash incentives.

Poverty Pilot Program Sends Millions To Poorest Schools - By Cedar Attanasio Associated Press / Report For America

New Mexico education officials will send $15 million to 108 of the state's most impoverished schools as part of a pilot program passed into law earlier this year.

The Public Education Department created the list by drawing on anonymized tax records to measure each school by the percentage of students who come from households with low or very low incomes. That means annual incomes of around $34,000 for a family of four.

The Family Income Index will be used to issue awards over the next two years as part of the legislation.

The state already funds school districts based on what type of students they serve, offering more money for special education and others who require more expensive services. Poor school districts also receive more federal funding.

"Unlike most programs that funnel money through school districts, the Family Income Index gets extra aid directly to the schools that need it most to offset the effects of concentrated poverty," Public Education Secretary Ryan Stewart said.

Schools have a broad mandate to use the money to help narrow academic achievement gaps in low-income communities by offering one-on-one tutoring services, at-home counseling and other services.

The largest award went to El Camino Real Community School in Santa Fe, which received $434,174 or around $500 for each of its 840 students.

Three schools in Taos, Quemado and Artesia received the minimum award of $20,000. With less than 20 students in each of those schools, the awards ranged from $1,000 to more than 1,500 per student.

New Mexico Governor Urges Limits On Fireworks Amid DroughtAssociated Press

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham is urging cities and counties across New Mexico to consider banning the sale of fireworks ahead of the July Fourth holiday.

She issued an executive order Monday, pointing to the drought that has blanketed much of the state and the fire restrictions that already are in place across New Mexico's five national forests.

While state statutes prevent the governor from imposing a statewide ban, the governor's office is encouraging municipalities to take action to limit fire danger by adopting fireworks restrictions over the coming weeks.

Rio Rancho and Farmington have warned residents that only permissible fireworks will be allowed — such as cone fountains, crackling devices and sparklers — in paved or otherwise barren areas. Doña Ana County recently approved restrictions that will span the holiday.

"We want to prevent fires in the dangerous conditions we are experiencing," County Fire Chief Shannon Cherry said, referring to the dry and windy weather.

Farmington's proclamation also will remain in effect for 30 days, but officials said the city council may extend it if extreme conditions continue.

Military Veteran Runs For New Mexico Governor As RepublicanAssociated Press

Investment adviser and West Point graduate Greg Zanetti of Albuquerque says he'll seek the Republican nomination for governor of New Mexico in next year's election.

In a news release Monday, Zanetti said he wants to "restore some dignity and principled leadership to the governor's office."

Zanetti said he wants to work with local officials to reduce crime rates and improve schools, though he did not provide detailed proposals.

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham is running for reelection in 2022 on her handling of the pandemic, tax breaks for working families and increases in spending on public education. She has signed legislation that legalizes recreational marijuana, emphasizes gun safety, shores up abortion rights and scales up financial incentives to businesses.

Zanetti lost a bid for lieutenant governor in 1994 to Walter Bradley, who won the general election alongside Gov. Gary Johnson.

He sought the GOP nomination for governor in 2010 but dropped out before the primary. That was another good year for Republicans with the election of GOP Gov. Susana Martinez to succeed a termed-out Democrat.

In recent years, Zanetti has nurtured a public following on local radio with regular appearances to provide financial advice.

He was the Republican Party county chairman in the Albuquerque area, and he organized advocacy against abortion access and against labor-union membership requirements in collective bargaining.

Other contenders for the Republican nomination include Sandoval County Commissioner Jay Block.

Zanetti grew up in Albuquerque and graduated from the U.S. Military Academy in 1980 to serve six years on active duty. He later entered the National Guard and was deployed in 2005 as a brigadier general to a task force that oversees the detention center at the U.S. naval base at Guantánamo Bay at the southeastern end of Cuba.

Thinner Mints: Girl Scouts Have Millions Of Unsold Cookies - By Dee-Ann Durbin, AP Business Writer

The Girl Scouts have an unusual problem this year: 15 million boxes of unsold cookies.

The 109-year-old organization says the coronavirus — not thinner demand for Thin Mints — is the main culprit. As the pandemic wore into the spring selling season, many troops nixed their traditional cookie booths for safety reasons.

"This is unfortunate, but given this is a girl-driven program and the majority of cookies are sold in-person, it was to be expected," said Kelly Parisi, a spokeswoman for Girl Scouts of the USA.

The impact will be felt by local councils and troops, who depend on the cookie sales to fund programming, travel, camps and other activities. The Girl Scouts normally sell around 200 million boxes of cookies per year, or around $800 million worth.

Rebecca Latham, the CEO of Girl Scouts of New Mexico Trails, said her council had 22,000 boxes left over at the end of the selling season in late spring, even though girls tried innovative selling methods like drive-thru booths and contact-free delivery.

Latham said troops in her area sold 805,000 boxes of cookies last year; this year, they sold just under 600,000. That shortfall means the council may not be able to invest in infrastructure improvements at its camps or fill some staff positions, she said.

The council is now encouraging people to buy boxes online through its Hometown Heroes program, which distributes cookies to health care workers, firefighters and others. It also organized one-day sales with organizations like the New Mexico United soccer team, to whittle the total down further.

Parisi said Girl Scouts of the USA did forecast lower sales this year due to the pandemic. But coronavirus restrictions were constantly shifting, and the cookie orders placed by its 111 local councils with bakers last fall were still too optimistic.

By early spring, when troops usually set up booths to sell cookies in person, U.S. coronavirus cases were still near their peak. Hundreds of girls opted not to sell cookies in person. Online sales and even a delivery partnership with Grubhub failed to make up the difference.

As a result, around 15 million boxes of cookies were left over as the cookie season wound down. Most — around 12 million boxes — remain with the two bakers, Louisville, Kentucky-based Little Brownie Bakers and Brownsburg, Indiana-based ABC Bakers. Another 3 million boxes are in the hands of the Girl Scout councils, which are scrambling to sell or donate them. The cookies have a 12-month shelf life.

It's unclear how much of a financial hit the Girl Scouts suffered because of the decline in sales since the organization won't reveal those figures. And it isn't the biggest blow the cookie program has ever faced. That likely came during World War II, when the Girl Scouts were forced to shift from selling cookies to calendars because of wartime shortages of sugar, butter and flour.

But the glut of cookies has laid bare some simmering issues within the Girl Scouts' ranks. Some local leaders say this year's slower sales should have been better predicted because falling membership was threatening cookie sales even before the pandemic began. Around 1.7 million girls were enrolled in Girl Scouts in 2019, down almost 30% from 2009.

"Without girls, there is no cookie program. Unfortunately, it took a global pandemic to bring all the problems to the surface," said Agenia Clark, president and CEO of Girl Scouts of Middle Tennessee, a local council.

Clark and some other local leaders were able to avert a cookie stockpile because they calculated their own sales projections instead of relying on guidance from the national office. Clark believes a new technology platform adopted by the Girl Scouts isn't adequately forecasting membership declines and their impact. In April, she sued the Girl Scouts of the USA because she doesn't want to her council to be forced to use that platform.

Parisi acknowledged that membership fell during the pandemic as troops struggled to figure out ways to meet safely. But those numbers are already rebounding, she said.

There were other reasons for the declining sales. Some local leaders say they might have sold cookies this year but chose not to because of an Associated Press story  linking child labor to the palm oil that is used to make Girl Scout cookies.

Gina Verdibello, a troop leader in Jersey City, New Jersey, said her 21-member troop, which has girls ranging in age from 10 to 15, decided to boycott this year's cookie program and held a protest at their city hall. Verdibello said she knows of at least a dozen other troops that opted not to sell because of the palm oil issue.

"We want to sell cookies. It's part of our thing. But this is putting kind of a damper on it," said Verdibello, whose troop has continued to fund activities with donations from people who heard about their boycott.

Parisi said such boycotts weren't widespread. But she said the Girl Scouts are working with the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, a nonprofit group that sets environmental and social standards for the industry, to ensure farmers are meeting those standards.

In the end, local councils won't be held financially responsible for the 12 million boxes that remain at the two bakers. Little Brownie Bakers and ABC Bakers said they are working with the Girl Scouts to sell or donate cookies to places like food banks and the military. The bakers can't sell directly to grocers because that might diminish the importance of the annual cookie sales. But they may sell to institutional buyers like prisons.

Parisi said bakers and councils have occasionally dealt with excess inventory before because of weather events like ice storms or tornadoes. But this level is unprecedented.

She said some pivots, like the partnership with Grubhub, are likely here to stay. But girls are also eager to get back to their booths next year.

"Girl Scout cookie season isn't just when you get to buy cookies," she said. "It's interacting with the girls. It's Americana."

Navajo Nation Finds 11 New COVID-19 Cases, 6 DeathsAssociated Press

The Navajo Nation has reported 11 new COVID-19 cases and six deaths this weekend.

Tribal health officials issued a breakdown of the latest virus stats Sunday, which saw only two new cases but no deaths. There were nine new cases and six deaths on Saturday.

This brings the number of deaths on the Navajo Nation to 1,340. As of Friday, there have been 30,914 virus cases.

Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez says residents must remain vigilant and not act like the pandemic is already over. He urged wearing masks, especially with the potential for virus variants to develop.

More than half of residents on the reservation that stretches into New Mexico, Arizona and Utah eligible to get vaccinated are fully vaccinated. Health facilities are offering vaccines during drive-thru events or by appointment.

Fallen Smokejumper Honored By Fellow Wildland FirefightersAssociated Press

Fellow wildland firefighters, U.S. Forest Service Chief Vicki Christiansen and Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon paid tribute during a weekend memorial for Tim Hart, a 36-year-old smokejumper from Cody, Wyoming, who died following a hard fall while fighting a New Mexico wildfire on May 24.

Hart's flag-draped casket was carried by a Forest Service honor guard to the service on Saturday at Cody High School's football field. Pipes and drums played "Amazing Grace" after tributes from Christiansen, Gordon and Hart's supervisor, Mike Blinn, who described Hart as "fit, fast, gritty and funny."

Hart was working for the West Yellowstone Smokejumpers, based in the Custer Gallatin National Forest in Montana, at the time of his death. He suffered a hard fall while responding to a fire in Hidalgo County, New Mexico. He succumbed to his injuries at a hospital in El Paso, Texas.

He had been a wildland firefighter since 2006, working in North Carolina, Arizona, Oregon, Wyoming and Nevada. He joined the smokejumper program in 2016 and worked his rookie season in Idaho, according to the Forest Service. He was based in Montana beginning in 2019.

Saturday's memorial was streamed by Custer Gallatin National Forest.

Christiansen described Hart as a disciplined, soft-spoken and devoted wildland firefighter who knew what had to be done. "We are deeply shaken by the loss of one of our own. The fire community is a family," she said.

Addressing Hart's casket, she said: "You lived life with love, with adventure and with great service to others."

Gordon described Hart's passion for smokejumping and his devotion to his family. "Wyoming will stand with you and by you," he said, addressing the family.

Hart's mother, Pam Hart, said her son found his life's mission in wildland firefighting and smokejumping. "This was the role he loved best," she told the crowd. "My son died, but not in vain and not for nothing."

In addition to his mother, Hart is survived by his wife, Michelle, and a sister.

The Forest Service says about 320 smokejumpers work from seven bases located in California, Idaho, Montana, Washington state and Oregon. The Bureau of Land Management has smokejumpers based in Idaho and Alaska.

Widow Of New Mexico Police Officer Suing For Wrongful DeathAlbuquerque Journal, Associated Press

The widow of a New Mexico State Police officer fatally shot in the line of duty in February has filed a wrongful death lawsuit, asserting the agency failed to equip her husband.

The Albuquerque Journal reported Sunday that Gabriella Jarrott filed the suit in 1st Judicial District Court in Santa Fe, naming the state Department of Public Safety as a defendant. It has been filed on behalf of her and the couple's three young children.

When reached, the State Police declined to comment.

Officer Darian Jarrott pulled over 39-year-old Omar Cueva on Feb. 4 along Interstate 10 east of Deming. Police said Cueva shot Jarrott multiple times, including in the head.

Cueva fled the scene and fired on officers during the pursuit, police said. Las Cruces officers returned fire, fatally hitting Cueva.

Police said Jarrott was helping Homeland Security Investigation agents with a narcotics investigation when he pulled Cueva over. Cueva was the target of a federal drug sting involving a confidential informant and undercover agent, according to State Police documents.

Sam Bregman, Gabriella Jarrott's attorney, alleges Jarrott was tasked with pulling over Cueva without any protective gear or backup. The officer had no idea how dangerous Cueva was but his superiors did, the lawsuit says.

Gabriella Jarrott is asking for unspecified damages.

Albuquerque Officer Involved In 4 Shootings Over 6 Years Albuquerque Journal, Associated Press

An Albuquerque police officer who fatally shot a man two months ago during a domestic dispute call had shot three other people in earlier incidents.

Police Chief Harold Medina said told the Albuquerque Journal that Officer Bryce Willsey asked to be temporarily taken out of the field after the April 16 call in which the officer fatally shot 51-year-old Juan James Cordova.

Willsey, who has been as an Albuquerque officer since 2015, was one of four officers who shot Daniel Saavedra-Arreola in an empty apartment building in January 2018 when he jumped out of the closet, swinging a metal pipe and knife.

He was one of five officers who shot Jason Scott Perez in December 2019 after Perez was spotted in a car with a stolen license plate and fired a gun inside the car.

And Willsey was one of two officers who shot Orlando Abeyta in January 2020 after Abeyta pointed a BB gun that resembled a real gun at people at a bus stop and at officers.

All three men were killed.

Attorney John D'Amato, a police union lawyer who is representing Willsey, said officers don't go out looking to shoot people.

"Police officers don't create the action, they react to the suspect's actions," D'Amato said. "And when deadly force or a threat to others or themselves is apparent the policies require they use deadly force to stop that action."

Medina said it's always concerning when an officer has been involved in multiple shootings, both because of the "optics to the public" and because of the effects it could have on an officer's mental health.

Police were called to Cordova's house after his girlfriend told authorities that Cordova had fired a weapon in their home. While in his driveway, authorities say Cordova pointed a gun at officers and fired a shot, though investigators don't know if it was aimed at police.

A video shows Cordova making a reference to his handgun about 10 minutes later. He waved what looks like a gun toward the sky, the horizon and the ground, yelling "Shoot! Shoot! Shoot!" That's when Willsey fatally shot Cordova.

Investigators are combing through videos and conducting interviews about what transpired.

Crews Trying To Contain Wildfire South BelenAssociated Press

A wildfire south of Belen that jumped the Rio Grande has residents preparing for a possible evacuation.

KRQE-TV reports officials with the state Forestry Division said Monday the fire has burned 320 acres and is 30 percent contained.The fire was first reported Saturday afternoon north of Veguita, near Highways 346 and 304.

According to fire officials, it has managed to cross the river and burn on both the east and west sides as well as spread north.

Firefighters are trying to contain the fire outside the bosque in order to also protect homes nearby. Authorities say homes in Jarales and near Highway 304 are at risk.

No mandatory evacuations have been given. But authorities are asking residents to be prepared in case they have to leave with little notice

The cause of the fire is under investigation.

Aid For Navajo Ranchers Hit By Drought, Pandemic On Its Way - By Vida Volkert Gallup Independent

Navajo ranchers impacted by the pandemic and ongoing drought may soon qualify for assistance to supplement their livestock with hay and grain.

The Navajo Nation Council passed legislation earlier this year to allocate $4 million for hay, grain and livestock feed for distribution to ranchers and livestock owners through the Sihasin Fund Pasture Range and Forage Expenditure Plan.

The assistance was supposed to go to the 110 chapters that make up the Navajo Nation months ago, but internal issues at the Navajo controller's office caused a delay, according to Navajo Nation Council Delegate Mark Freeland, who co-sponsored the legislation.

The issues at the controller's office included the removal of Navajo Controller Pearline Kirk. A divided council voted in May to remove Kirk after questions were raised about the procurement of an emergency contract between the controller's office and Agile Technologies for COVID-19 testing.

Former Navajo Nation Auditor General Elizabeth Begay has since been appointed as acting controller.

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'We need rain'

Freeland told the Gallup Independent during an interview that the Navajo Nation is now in the process of developing a mechanism to disburse the money to the chapters and help the ranchers.

Freeland, who represents various chapters on the Eastern Agency, said he has been hearing from ranchers who are struggling as a result of the drought. He cited the loss of forage on the range, feral horses competing with cattle and the lack of rain.

"We need rain," he said. "We are on a very severe drought. How are we going to battle that? We need to be proactive with livestock reduction."

Freeland added that the pandemic also contributed to the ranchers' struggles. Several slaughter facilities in the United States were closed for a few months throughout the pandemic, resulting in an excess of cattle that has caused market prices to go down.

"They are not getting their fair market value. Cow prices are down. The demand outweighs the supply," he said.

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Reduce livestock

Navajo Nation Agriculture Department Director Leo Watchman said Tuesday that ranchers are being advised to keep track of their losses and expenses and reduce the number of livestock under a plan to restock or defer operations.

The most recent federal drought monitoring reports indicates that all of the Southwest is experiencing some level of drought, and forecasts suggest these conditions are expected to continue through the summer. As of mid-May, 93% of the Southwest and California were in drought, with 38 % of the region in exceptional drought, which is the highest level.

According to officials with National Integrated Drought Information System, high temperatures and very low rainfall totals through spring and summer of 2020 set new records across the Southwest. They also have said that the combination of extremely low soil moisture leading into winter and snow drought through winter means that run-off in the spring of 2021 has been very low.