Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and Democratic members of the state’s congressional delegation on Wednesday pointed to the estimated $9 billion that New Mexico is expected to receive from the massive federal pandemic relief package signed by President Biden as an opportunity to lift the state out of poverty and ease economic burdens caused by the pandemic.
Beyond the vaccine rollout and grants for small businesses, they said the funding will go toward everything from direct payments for individuals to investments in broadband in rural and Tribal areas, clean water projects, debt relief for Hispanic and Native American farmers, and an expansion of the child tax credit. Tribal communities and public schools will see over $1 billion each, while the state and local governments will share about $2 billion.
The Democrats called the federal aid package as an answer to poverty in the state, saying it will address inequities that were brought to light during the pandemic by creating universal benefits and lifelong assistance. Lujan Grisham made the bold claim that about one-quarter of New Mexico families would immediately be “lifted out of poverty” due to the economic assistance and tax credits included in the legislation.
“There are no words to describe the impact that has on a state that has long had extreme and persistent poverty,” she said during a virtual news conference. “This is exactly the investment that we have always deserved and that we need now more than ever.”
The Legislature took immediate steps Wednesday to pull $1.63 billion in federal relief into its budget plan for the coming fiscal year that starts on July 1. Other likely relief expenditures include economic development grants and roadway infrastructure, with about $440 million still unassigned.
The Legislature has until March 20 to send the spending plan to the governor, who can veto measures line by line. Republicans have been critical of the relief package, arguing that Democrats have been misleading the public about where the money will go.
U.S. Rep. Yvette Herrell, New Mexico’s sole Republican member of Congress, said in a statement that less than 9% of the $1.9 trillion bill goes to combatting the virus while $12 billion goes overseas and more than $500 billion goes to bail out states and cities that imposed lockdowns. “With the end of this difficult time now insight, we should be focused on reopening our communities and getting our children back in school as soon as possible. Unfortunately, this bill does nothing to make either happen any faster,” Herrell said.
While many schools already are working toward fully resuming in-person classes by April 5, the legislature said 95% of the $1.2 billion earmarked for public schools in the state will help pay for things like sick leave, technology, air filtration upgrades, and outdoor classrooms.