THURS: State Relief Checks Begin Arriving, Santa Fe Farolito Walk Becomes COVID-Safe Drive, + More

Dec 24, 2020

  New Mexico To Meet Deadline For Sending Out Relief Checks - By Susan Montoya Bryan and Cedar Attanasio, Associated Press

Around 15,000 residents previously ineligible for pandemic stimulus checks have started receiving payments from the state. The group includes immigrants in the country without work authorization.

Officials with the New Mexico Human Services Department said the $465 relief payments began arriving this week via direct deposit or checks.

The Legislature allocated $5 million to the fund for those who hadn't received federal payments in April. Agency officials say they were able to identify an additional $2 million on top of that.

Drawing from unspent federal relief funds, New Mexico's relief package was part of a $330 million appropriation that included additional money for New Mexicans already on unemployment or whose benefits had run out. Funding also was earmarked for more COVID-19 testing and support for food banks.

While COVID-19 cases have been declining in New Mexico, the economic fallout from the pandemic continues. On Wednesday, state health officials reported 1,174 new COVID-19 cases and 40 additional deaths.

Santa Fe Christmas Eve Farolito Walk Becomes COVID-Safe Drive Santa Fe New Mexican, KUNM News

The traditional Farolito Walk in Santa Fe will become a farolito drive this year in an effort to adjust the gathering to meet COVID-safe practices.

The Santa Fe New Mexican reports the city of Santa Fe will permit attendees to the Christmas Eve event as long as they remain in their vehicles. The decades-old tradition typically draws thousands to Canyon Road to view farolitos, sing carols and shop.

Co-president of the Canyon Road Merchants Association, Carlos Acosta, said Wednesday that it was still unclear how many businesses would participate in the modified Christmas Eve event. Acosta said that while at least a handful of galleries were planning to put out farolitos, others had gone out of business or not committed to partaking in the event. 

Gallery owner Deborah Fritz told the New Mexican that the vendor she orders her farolitos from had only gotten two orders from Canyon Road businesses compared to the usual 40. Fritz will be lighting the traditional lanterns in front of her gallery, Giacobbe-Fritz Fine Art, but won’t be open for business as in years past. 

City officials say police will block off streets that intersect with Canyon Road for the drive-through event that is scheduled from 5:15 p.m. - 8:30 p.m. Thursday night. Those on foot will not be permitted to attend.

State Officials Plan For More Vaccine Distribution Associated Press

New Mexico health officials are planning for future rounds of vaccine distribution and have set up a new online portal for people to register for eventual vaccination.

Health Secretary Dr. Tracie Collins said during a briefing Tuesday that New Mexico is offering doses to health care workers and staff and residents of long-term care facilities as part of the first phase.

Other groups will be able to schedule their vaccinations as the state receives more information about the number and timing of vaccine shipments in the coming weeks and months, she said.

The state has set up a registration app that enables New Mexicans to be notified when they qualify for the vaccine.

New Mexico State University announced Wednesday that it will help the Health Department distribute vaccines to the general public at its campuses throughout the state once doses become available.

The school already has lined up equipment and volunteers from the NMSU system and the Burrell College of Osteopathic Medicine to support the effort.

State health officials on Wednesday reported 1,174 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the total to 133,242 since the pandemic began. There were also 40 additional deaths, pushing that total to 2,243.

The Department of Health has identified at least one positive COVID-19 case in residents and/or staff in the past month at 128 long-term care facilities around the state.

Report Details Impact Of Federal Stimulus In New MexicoAssociated Press

A report released Tuesday by Republican legislative leaders details how nearly $9.3 billion in initial federal stimulus money is being used in New Mexico.

The analysis by the Legislative Finance Committee shows that state agencies allocated more than $2.3 billion for the 2020 and 2021 fiscal years for public schools, higher education, health care and efforts to combat the virus.

Local governments, tribes, small businesses, housing authorities and individuals received almost $7 billion as part of efforts to keep people employed, provide additional unemployment benefits and preserve other services.

Republican Rep. Randy Crowder of Clovis, who requested the study, said the federal dollars have played an essential role in keeping New Mexico’s economy from facing a severe depression and have prevented budget shortfalls.

“These stimulus dollars have literally saved tens of thousands of jobs, kept our state’s healthcare delivery system afloat, and saved countless New Mexican lives,” he said.

New Organization To Represent Bars And Other Venues Albuquerque Journal, KUNM

A newly organized group says it will represent the interests of bars and entertainment venues in New Mexico that have been closed for most of 2020.

Matt Kennicott, a former public information officer with the state, is one of the organizers of the New Mexico Bar, Entertainment and Nightclub Association. He told the Albuquerque Journal bar owners have been severely impacted by the coronavirus pandemic and have not received much assistance.

Bars, indoor movie theaters and other event venues have been shuttered since early spring because of public health orders from the state. Under the state’s red-to-green system of gradually re-opening, they would remain closed even if an area reaches the green level.

In contrast, breweries and distilleries that serve food have been treated like restaurants under the public health orders.

Kennicott said bar owners face an additional burden because they must still pay annual state liquor license fees that range from $750 to $1300. The group is looking to get those suspended and may also push for other temporary changes to liquor laws in the upcoming legislative session.

New Mexico Governor Says Coronavirus Poses No Threat For Santa Associated Press

It's official, at least according to New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham: Santa Claus and his reindeer are immune to COVID-19 and can safely visit homes across the state.

Lujan Grisham's office on Wednesday announced that she had issued a proclamation assuring New Mexico children that health experts had determined the coronavirus poses no danger to Santa and his hoofed helpers.

As for the formalities, the proclamation designates Santa as an essential worker and exempts him from New Mexico's social distancing and travel requirements. Lujan Grisham added that she hopes everyone stays safe over the holidays.

Congress Passes Bill On Navajo Nation Water Rights In Utah – Salt Lake Tribune, Associated Press

Congress has passed a long-awaited bill that would address water availability issues for residents living on the Navajo Nation in Utah who lack access to running water, a problem exacerbated by the pandemic.

The Salt Lake Tribune reported that the Utah Navajo Water Rights Settlement Act was passed on Monday as part of a massive $2.3 trillion spending bill that includes $900 billion in coronavirus relief and a $1.4 trillion omnibus spending package.

The legislation will next head to President Donald Trump for his signature. The legislation would recognize the Navajo Nation's right to 81,500 acre feet of water from the Colorado River basin in Utah.

It would also settle the tribe's current and future water rights claims and provide $220 million to build much-needed water projects in San Juan County. The vast reservation stretches across Arizona, New Mexico and Utah.

About 40% of the Navajo Nation homes in the county currently do not have access to running water and residents often fill containers at public taps or rely on water deliveries from volunteer organizations.

Travel Guide With 2021 Twist: Writers Laud American Places - By Beth J. Harpaz Associated Press, KUNM

If 2020 had been a normal year, travel experts would be offering year-end lists of great vacation spots for 2021 right now.

But Frommer's travel guidebook company says that felt irresponsible during the pandemic. Instead they invited 16 notable writers to describe places they think have helped shape and define America.

Selections range from Gloria Steinem writing about Serpent Mound Historical Site in Ohio to Jodi Picoult on the Black Heritage Trail in New Hampshire. David Sedaris describes the Little America Hotel in Salt Lake City and Cheryl Strayed writes about the Oregon coast.

Timothy Egan’s choice is Acoma Sky City in New Mexico, the traditional village of Acoma Pueblo. The mesa is nearly 400 feet high and Egan highlights it represents the continuity of life over centuries.

Egan writes it is the oldest, continuously inhabited place in the United States. He dubs it Plymouth Rock West where Spanish and Native cultures clashed.

The collection can be read free online at Frommers.