Saturday, January 19, 2013

Poverty and Hunger in New Mexico: The Good, The Bad and the Potentially Good

You've heard the adage, I have good news and bad news.  Which do you want to hear first?  Most of us pick the bad news for starters.  But I'll go with the good news first, then the bad news, and then the potentially good news.

FRAC's School Breakfast Scorecard
Logo for End Hunger Connecticut
A report released this week by the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC) ranks New Mexico at the top of the list in terms of providing school breakfast for low-income children.  According to the report, entitled School Breakfast Scorecard, New Mexico served 70.2 low-income children breakfast for every 100 who received lunch during the 2011-12 school year.

By way of comparison, our neighbor Utah (which ranked last among the 50 states and the District of Columbia), which had a ratio of 33.9 to 100. 

More importantly, our state's performance has improved from 2010-2011,when the ration was 63.5 to 100.

One reason why our state has such a high ranking are the efforts of New Mexico Appleseed through its Breakfast After the Bell campaign and the No Kid Hungry New Mexico program over the past couple of years.  

And the FRAC report makes a point of highlighting the efforts of New Mexico to leverage federal funds to attain the goal.   

"If all states were able to reach FRAC’s goal of 70 low-income children eating school breakfast for every100 low-income children eating school lunch, which New Mexico has demonstrated is achievable and several other states are
approaching, states would be taking advantage of a significant amount of additional federal funding and would provide breakfast for millions more low-income children each day."  
Read full report

Kids Count Report
Cover for 2012 report
Now to the bad news.  A new report from New Mexico Voices for Children, also released this past week at the State Capitol to mark the start of the State Legislature on Jan. 15, ranks New Mexico 49th among 50 states in terms of child well-being.  The Kids Count report, wich the NMVC publishes on an annual basis, said our state ranks 49th among the 50 states in terms of child well-being.  New Mexico was also 49th in terms of children living in poverty, 50th for fourth graders not proficient in reading, 39th for children without health insurance and 47th for children in single-parent families.  Here is a recommendation:

State government should support and fund a comprehensive, high-quality early childhood care and education system of services. These services include prenatal care and home visiting programs, high-quality child care, and preschool. Such programs will do much to improve the well-being of New Mexico’s children, giving infants and toddlers the best start during the most critical developmental stage of their lives and ensuring that children are reading by third grade and will have the necessary foundation for a successful path to high school graduation and college/career readiness. See full report

Governor's Hunger Task Force
And now the other potentially good news (provided that it leads to concrete actions). I also want to point to an executive order that Gov. Susana Martinez signed in August 2012 to create a Hunger Task Force in New Mexico.  The executive order has the usual statements of why it's necessary to create the task force (Whereas), the composition of the task force and its purpose.  

The task force is charged with compiling a report to the Gov. Martinez with recommendations to address the following issues and concerns. 

a. An assessment of food programs throughout the state to identify gaps in service
b.  Methods by which to address gaps in service
c. An inventory of all food programs that exist across state government and any recommendations to streamline programs to make them more effective
d. Model practices, both local and in other states in order to make strategic use of resources
e. Promotion of programs in order to reach families in need
The report is due no later than one year following the first task force meeting. Following the completion of the report, the task force will meet only as needed at the discretion of the chair (the governor's representative). 

In summary, we know that we did well in providing school breakfasts for our children, and this has to continue.  The governor's task force is an important vehicle to ensure that we identify the needs and take direct action to ensure access to food for everyone.  

But we also must recognize the systemic problems that keep families in our state in poverty and develop strategies. Economic development and job creation are certainly one step.  Improving education and improving access to  health care are another step. And of course, we must continue to leverage our state resources with federal dollars that give citizens access to important federal programs.  That's where our State Legislature and Gov. Martinez have an important role to play.

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