Coalition urges NM to use federal funds for cash assistance

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  • Michelle Lujan Grisham
    Michelle Lujan Grisham
    American politician

Jan. 13—SANTA FE — A coalition that includes elected leaders in Albuquerque and Santa Fe is calling on New Mexico to use some of its federal stimulus funds to provide cash assistance to families who didn't receive other aid because of immigration status or other barriers.

In a letter to Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and legislators, the group of elected leaders said many families have fallen through the cracks and been ineligible for much of the pandemic aid that has helped other New Mexicans — a group that includes residents who made so little they didn't file income taxes and mixed-status immigrant families.

"Immigrants have some of the most difficult times accessing any help," Isaac Benton, president of the Albuquerque City Council, said in an online news conference. "These workers are critical to our economy."

He was among a handful of speakers who urged legislators to send some of the unspent federal money to the state Human Services Department for emergency cash assistance programs.

Gabriel Sanchez, a pollster for BSP Research, shared findings of a survey of Latino adults in New Mexico — including immigrants and Spanish speakers — that showed 30% of those polled reported that someone in their household had had difficulty paying bills or utilities over the past year because of the pandemic. About 24% reported cuts in work hours and 19% the loss of a job.

"This is very sobering data," Sanchez said.

The findings, he said, show "tough times for everybody across New Mexico, particularly rural Hispanic residents."

The survey was sponsored by a host of groups advocating for worker or immigrant rights, including Somos Un Pueblo Unido, El Centro de Igualdad y Derechos and New Mexico Voices for Children.

New Mexico has about $724 million in unallocated federal funds from the American Rescue Plan Act.

Lawmakers are considering making some of the money available to boost the lottery scholarship program for college students, tourism advertising, food banks and legislation intended to make New Mexico a hydrogen energy hub.

Agreeing on a budget package is expected to be a focus of the 30-day session that starts next week.

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