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Local
Local child care providers voice concerns
  • Updated

Future state aid discussed in meeting with cabinet secretary

 

Area child care providers told a state cabinet secretary on Tuesday government aid helped them stay open during the pandemic but now they worry what might happen to their businesses if that funding is not available in the future.

Elizabeth Groginsky, New Mexico Secretary of Early Childhood Education and Care, was in Roswell Tuesday as the seventh stop on a statewide listening tour that started in March. She and some of her staff met with area child care providers and educators at a luncheon at Valley Cafe, 901 W. Brasher Road. It was Groginsky’s second visit to Roswell since being named secretary of the state’s newest cabinet-level department in 2020.

The secretary spoke of recent benefits the state has offered such as the expansion of free child care to families. In April, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced that families with incomes up to 400% of the federal poverty level can qualify for waivers of copayments for child care services in the state’s child care Assistance Program for a year, making child care cost free.

“We relieved that burden using our federal relief dollars to say a family of four (making) up to $111,000 will have no cost to their child care,” she said.

The department has also used funds to boost revenue for child care providers after a study found they were charging clients what parents could afford rather than the cost of their service. Other funds have helped them increase salaries and educational opportunities for their staff, she said.

“In a year, we’re going to be able to see what a difference this made for New Mexican families and our child care industry. I’m very hopeful this is going to be a game-changer,” she said.

Lisa Reeves, director of Mighty Movers Learning Center, 900 W. Brasher Road, said the center had seen an increase in applications since the announcement of the expanded free child care program.

“We had quite a few families that had applied prior to the announcement and did not qualify, and we were able to send it to all of our families. It’s definitely greatly appreciated by our families and helping them out financially,” she said.

Susan Torres, director of Noah’s Ark Christian Preschool and Kindergarten, 501 N. Sycamore Ave., said the state’s financial assistance helped the school stay open during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We are now up to pre-COVID numbers. We’re up to 151 in our program right now and we have been encouraging our families to apply for contracts,” she said.

Some families are hesitant to be on state assistance, she said, but she asks them what free child care for a year will do for their family.

“They’re slowly coming around. We have had some new contracts,” she said.

Juanita Segovia, owner and operator of Carousel Learning Center in Dexter, also said the state aid had helped her business, but she was concerned about next year.

“I never thought it was going to grow,” she said of her business. “I have kids on the waiting list, it’s just that I don’t have that many staff.”

She has been able to offer better pay for her staff, but she’s worried that if future funding doesn’t come through, she might have to take the raises away. 

“Then if I get more kids, then what am I going to do?” she said.

Retaining staff is also a concern as they take advantage of state aid to further their education, she said.

“I had some that went all the way and got their bachelor’s and left to the public schools because they get paid more. I don’t blame them. They’re doing the same work as public teachers — lesson time, observation, dealing with parents,” she said.

Maria Arrieta, director of My Kiddos Child Care Center, 1111 S. Union Avenue Ave., also said wages and finding teachers has been a struggle, especially when the state’s minimum wage rose in December to $11.50 per hour.

“A lot of people were already earning $10-$11, and now that gap is closing and they’re expecting us to give them that difference all over again. We have to gradually give that to them, but they expect it a lot sooner than that,” she said.

State aid helped My Kiddos give bonuses to staff rather than raises, she said.

“With all the money that we’ve received, we’ve been able to give them bonuses and that’s the way we have kept them so far. I think with all the other funds they get for studying and all that other stuff, it’s great, but at the same time they feel a little bit of that struggle, having to go to school, manage their family, all that stuff,” she said.

She said My Kiddos has also lost staff to public schools as they further their education.

Groginsky said those are concerns that she’s heard from other child care providers in the state.

“We’ve got to move forward and this is going to be a reality for New Mexico,” Groginsky said of the wage concerns.

She pointed to the Early Childhood Trust Fund established in 2020 as well as the constitutional amendment on the November ballot to allocate funds from the Land Grant Permanent Fund to early childhood education and public schools as secure funding mechanisms.

The trust fund was started with a $320 million appropriation from the state general fund and is supported by oil and gas revenues and federal mineral leasing.

“We are seeing estimates coming out of the Legislative Finance Committee that that’s expected to hit about $2 billion this coming year and could grow to as much as $4 or $5 billion in the coming years. That fund will distribute to the department 5% of the corpus of that fund or $30 million, whichever is greater,” she said.

In November, voters will decide whether or not to allocate funds from the Land Grant Permanent Fund, whose revenue comes from leases and royalties on oil and gas. If passed, 1.25% of the market value of the fund would go toward early childhood education and public education on a 60-40 split. 

“I think we all have to believe the money is there,” Groginsky said.

“We’re all going to have to take some risks so that when we come out of this at the end of the year, we’re going to have shown that those investments actually made a difference in what our employees made,” she said.

“We have a long way to go to educate our legislators and our community about the business of child care and why it costs so much, because it’s human-being intensive. It’s relationship-based work and you need to keep those good people in your programs and you need to pay them to keep them there,” Groginsky said.

City/RISD reporter Juno Ogle can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 205, or reporter04@rdrnews.com.


Local
Fire risks close Lincoln forest, federal sites

The Lincoln National Forest and some Bureau of Land Management properties will be closed to the general public starting Wednesday due to high fire risks.

The closures are effective starting at 8 a.m.

Lincoln National Forest officials announced Monday that the forest is expected to be closed until July 30, unless the order is rescinded sooner.

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management announced Tuesday that the Fort Stanton-Snowy River Cave National Conservation Area and Rio Bonito Acquired Lands — also known as the Lincoln Tracts — will be closed until further notice.

Lincoln County experienced the McBride and Nogal Canyon wildfires in April near the Ruidoso area, which resulted in two deaths, damage to about 6,157 acres and the loss of 213 homes or primary property structures. Droughts, dry vegetation, high temperatures and occasional high winds continue in the area. Seven active fires in New Mexico were occurring on Tuesday, according to InciWeb, a website compiled by various state and federal agencies.

“Forest managers consider several factors before implementing fire restrictions or forest closures, including current fire danger and fire activity, local, regional and national fire preparedness levels, expected weather conditions, availability of firefighting resources, and the economic impacts to businesses and communities,” a news release stated. “The Lincoln National Forest coordinates fire restrictions and forest closures with federal, state, tribal and local partners.”

According to information released by the Lincoln National Forest, all lands, recreation and campground sites, roads and trails in the 1.1 million acre forest will be closed. County and state roads not under forest jurisdiction will allow vehicular traffic, and communities along the forest can remain open for business.

Unauthorized people who violate the order can be fined or criminally charged for violating the order. The forest also has fire restrictions in place.

A news release by the BLM stated that only people engaged in authorized permitted activities or involved in official duties as part of a rescue or firefighting team will be allowed in the Fort Stanton or Rio Bonita areas during the closure of those sites.

Other U.S. forest sites closed in New Mexico are the Santa Fe National Forest, Carson National Forest and parts of the Cibola National Forest and National Grasslands.


National
Texas school shooting kills 18 children, 3 adults

UVALDE, Texas — An 18-year-old gunman opened fire Tuesday at a Texas elementary school, killing at least 18 children, officials said, and the gunman was dead.

The death toll also included three adults, according to state Sen. Roland Gutierrez, who said he was briefed by state police on the fatalities. But it was not immediately clear whether that number included the assailant.

It was the deadliest shooting at a U.S. grade school since a gunmen killed 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut, almost a decade ago. And it came just 10 days after a gunman in body armor killed 10 Black shoppers and workers at a supermarket in Buffalo, New York, in what authorities say was a racist attack.

Federal law enforcement officials said the death toll was expected to rise. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release investigative details.

The gunman entered Robb Elementary School in Uvalde with a handgun and possibly a rifle, Gov. Greg Abbott said. Officials did not immediately reveal a motive, but the governor identified the assailant as Salvador Ramos and said he was a resident of the heavily Latino community about 85 miles (135 kilometers) west of San Antonio.

A Border Patrol agent who was nearby when the shooting began rushed into the school without waiting for backup and shot and killed the gunman, who was behind a barricade, according to a law enforcement official speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk about it.

The agent was wounded but able to walk out of the school, the law enforcement source said.

Abbott said the shooter was likely killed by police officers but that the events were still being investigated. The school district’s police chief, Pete Arredondo, said that the attacker acted alone.

The massacre of young children was another gruesome moment for a country scarred by an almost ceaseless string of mass killings at churches, schools and stores. And the prospects for any reform in the nation’s gun regulations seemed at least as dim as in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook deaths.

The gunman in Uvalde “shot and killed, horrifically, incomprehensibly, 14 students, and killed a teacher,” the governor said, adding that two officers were also wounded but were expected to survive.

“Pray for the lost, their families, and Uvalde,” San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg said in a tweet.

It was not immediately clear how many people were wounded, but Arredondo said there were “several injuries.” Earlier, Uvalde Memorial Hospital said 13 children were taken there. Another hospital reported a 66-year-old woman was in critical condition.

Robb Elementary School has an enrollment of just under 600 students, and Arredondo said it serves students in the second, third and fourth grade. He did not provide ages of the children who were shot. This was the school’s last week of classes before summer break.

A heavy police presence surrounded the school Tuesday afternoon, with officers in heavy vests diverting traffic and FBI agents coming and going from the building.

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said President Joe Biden was briefed on the shooting on Air Force One as he returned from a five-day trip to Asia. Biden was scheduled to deliver remarks Tuesday evening at the White House.

Uvalde is home to about 16,000 people and is the seat of government for Uvalde County. The town is about 75 miles (120 kilometers) from the border with Mexico. Robb Elementary is in a mostly residential neighborhood of modest homes.

The tragedy in Uvalde was the deadliest school shooting in Texas history, and it added to a grim tally of mass shootings in the state that have been among the deadliest in the U.S. over the past five years.

In 2018, a gunman fatally shot 10 people at Santa Fe High School in the Houston area. A year before that, a gunman at a Texas church killed more than two dozen people during a Sunday service in the small town of Sutherland Springs. In 2019, another gunman at a Walmart in El Paso killed 23 people in a racist attack.

The shooting came days before the National Rifle Association annual convention was set to begin in Houston. Abbott and both of Texas’ U.S. senators were among elected Republican officials who were the scheduled speakers at a Friday leadership forum sponsored by the NRA’s lobbying arm.

In the years since Sandy Hook, the gun control debate in Congress has waxed and waned. Efforts by lawmakers to change U.S. gun policies in any significant way have consistently faced roadblocks from Republicans and the influence of outside groups such as the NRA.

A year after Sandy Hook, Sens. Joe Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat, and Patrick J. Toomey, a Pennsylvania Republican, negotiated a bipartisan proposal to expand the nation’s background check system. But as the measure was close to being brought to the Senate floor for a vote, it became clear it would not get enough votes to clear a 60-vote filibuster hurdle.


World
US to end Russia’s ability to pay international investors

WASHINGTON — The U.S. will close the last avenue for Russia to pay its billions in debt back to international investors on Wednesday, making a Russian default on its debts for the first time since the Bolshevik Revolution all but inevitable.

The Treasury Department said in a notification that it does not plan to renew the license that allowed Russia to keep paying its debtholders through American banks.

Since the first rounds of sanctions, the Treasury Department has given banks a license to process any dollar-denominated bond payments from Russia. That window expires at midnight May 25.

There had already been signs that the Biden administration was unwilling to extend the deadline. At a press conference heading into the Group of Seven finance minister meetings in Koenigswinter, Germany, last week, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said the window existed “to allow a period of time for an orderly transition to take place, and for investors to be able to sell securities.”

“The expectation was that it was time-limited,” Yellen said.

Without the license to use U.S. banks to pay its debts, Russia would have no ability to repay its international bond investors. The Kremlin has been using JPMorgan Chase and Citigroup as its conduits to pay its obligations.

Jay Auslander, a prominent sovereign debt lawyer who previously litigated other debt crises like the one in Argentina, said at this point most of the institutional investors in Russian debts have likely sold their holdings, knowing this deadline is coming. Those who are still holding the debts are either distressed debt investors or those willing to wait to litigate it out over the next few years.

“The majority who wanted out have gotten out. The only issue is finding buyers,” he said.

The Kremlin appears to have foreseen the likelihood that the U.S. would not allow Russia to keep paying on its bonds. The Russian Finance Ministry prepaid two bonds on Friday that were due this month to get ahead of the May 25 deadline.

The next payments Russia will need to make on its debts are due on June 23. Like other Russian debt, those bonds have a 30-day grace period — which would cause default by Russia to be declared by late July, barring the unlikely scenario that the Russia-Ukraine war would come to an end before then.

Investors have been almost certain of Russia going into default for months now. Insurance contracts that cover Russian debt have priced a 80% likelihood of default for weeks and rating agencies like Standard & Poor’s and Moody’s have placed the country’s debt deep into junk territory.

Russia has not defaulted on its international debts since the 1917 Revolution, when the Russian Empire collapsed and the Soviet Union was created. Russia defaulted on its domestic debts in the late 1990s during the Asian Financial Crisis, but was able to recover from that default with the help of international aid.

A Russian default this time will likely have little-to-minimal impact on the global economy, Auslander said, since Russia has been cut off from global financial markets for months now and investors have been expecting a default. Biden officials have made similar statements.

Once it defaults, the next likely step would be for Russia to turn to U.S., British or European courts to argue that it was forced into default by circumstances beyond its control — a concept in finance known as force majeure — in an effort to restore its standing in global financial markets. It may be difficult to win that argument however, Auslander said, due to the fact that Russia got cut off from financial markets because it chose to invade Ukraine.


Local
State plans for $38 million electric charging network

The New Mexico Department of Transportation is developing a plan to use $38.39 million in federal funds during the next five years to create a network of electric vehicle charging stations along interstates.

New Mexico has about 132 electric charging stations now that provide public access, said Jerry P. Valdez, executive director of public projects for the state Transportation Department.

A state map indicates that one in Chaves County is located at the Roswell Honda facility on West Second Street.

States are required to submit reports for future plans by August to a U.S. Department of Transportation group administering the National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure (NEVI) Program. That program is allocating $4.16 billion in funds and wants states to establish 500,000 electric vehicle chargers nationwide by 2030.

“The NMDOT is committed to this project as our nation is transitioning and adopting electric vehicles to change the future of transportation through clean energy projects,” Valdez said. “With increased adoption of electronic vehicles, the state of New Mexico stands to reap significant air quality benefits along with other economic benefits.” 

Valdez said that New Mexico’s allocation of federal funds is ensured to be at least 95% of what it paid to the federal Highway Trust Fund for the most recent fiscal year but is also based on other factors, such as the ratio of the state’s total lane miles of highways receiving federal funds to the national total; the ratio of the state’s vehicle miles on federal-aid highways to the total; and the ratio of the state’s tax payments to the Highway Trust Fund to the national total.

According to Valdez, the NEVI Program requires the state, unless exceptions are granted, to plan for installing a charging station or structure every 50 miles along the state’s portion of the interstate highway system, with those stations or structures located within 1 mile of the interstate. He also said that the New Mexico Department of Transportation will ensure that each station will have a minimum 600 kilowatts of power and will be capable of providing a minimum of 150 kilowatts per port at four ports simultaneously.

Valdez said that the state is able to contract with private entities to build or operate the stations.

“States can own or lease EV charging infrastructure and will have a hybrid approach based on geographic and energy capacity needs,” he said.

While the charging sites will be publicly accessible, users will have to pay for for the electricity they use, with electric providers and the state of New Mexico deciding on the rates.

The state Transportation Department is working now to speak with the stakeholders — such as representatives with electric utilities, charging station installers and advocacy groups — as well as the general public.

The public can participate in one of the webinars the department is hosting for each of its six districts. The one for District 2, which involves Roswell and the surrounding area, is scheduled for Thursday at 5 p.m. Information on the links is available at www.dot.nm.gov.

Valdez said the public can help address factors such as equity, inclusion and equality. He also said that the bipartisan infrastructure law, also known as the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, has $2.5 billion for a discretionary grant program that can be used by various governmental entities to establish charging and fueling sites outside of the interstates. He said that community funding will prioritize rural areas, low- and moderate-income neighborhoods, and areas with high ratios of multi-unit dwellings or low ratios of private parking.

Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 351, or at reporter02@rdrnews.com.


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