WASHINGTON, D.C. — Tuesday, the first day of the state legislative session, U.S. Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrichsent a letter to the leaders of the New Mexico House and Senate, formally calling on them to work together to improve the well-being of New Mexico’s children.
Specifically, Udall and Heinrich urged legislators to bring up and pass a measure that would allow voters to amend the constitution and invest a portion of the state’s Land Grant Permanent Fund in the most effective early childhood programs.
A disproportionately high number of New Mexico’s children tragically and unfairly experience hunger, poverty and poor health, Udall and Heinrich wrote to state lawmakers.
Their letter comes the same day that New Mexico Voices for Children released its annual Kids Count data book, which reported that in 2014, New Mexico fell to worst in the nation for the percentage of children living in poverty — surpassing Mississippi — and ranked 49th in child well-being. According to Voices for Children, state government has not done enough to address chronic poverty.
“New Mexico is at a critical juncture,” Udall and Heinrich wrote. “The economy is stalled, families are struggling, and more needs to be done to ensure our children are in the best possible position to succeed later in life. This is vital to the health and well-being of our economy and growth of our state.”
“Education provides children with an opportunity to improve their own lives and the lives of their families,” the letter continued. “Unfortunately, our education system is also failing. New Mexico ranked 49th in education in a recent national report, yet study after study shows that children who have access to high-quality child care and pre-kindergarten programs are more likely to succeed in later grades, leading to higher graduation rates and providing a path to the middle class. We owe it to our children and our economy to make smart investments in effective early childhood programs that we know can help families break the cycle of poverty.”
Research has shown that investments in early child care and education programs are among the most effective ways to ensure children get a strong start in life, graduate from high school and move into the middle class. Improving the well-being of New Mexico’s children would help break the cycle of poverty that is devastating to children and families and holding back the state’s economy.
“Nothing is more important for our state at this time than improving the well-being of our children,” the senators concluded.”If we fail at this, we fail at everything else, including long-term economic progress. Especially on this issue, New Mexicans should have the right to determine their future.”
At the federal level, Udall and Heinrich are working to maximize federal resources going to New Mexico for health, education and to fight poverty and hunger: the Affordable Care Act, Children’s Health Insurance Program reauthorization, No Child Left Behind reform, and enhanced federal tax credits are some successful examples.
The senators also have fought successfully to protect New Mexico from cuts to Supplemental Nutrition Assistance programs, which thousands of families across the state depend on to put food on the table.
Both senators have previously endorsed proposals to invest a portion of the Land Grant Permanent Fund in high-quality early childhood programs. Such a change would require state lawmakers to pass legislation allowing voters to approve an amendment to the state constitution.
The Land Grant Permanent Fund consists of royalties from oil and gas development and earnings on investments, and it has grown steadily since it was created in 1910.
Text of the letter is available here.