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Monday, May 02, 2016

State's Social Conditions Crisis Grows As Economy Slows: Child Abuse, Graduation Rates And Medicaid In The Spotlight, Plus: State Scandal Brews Over Denial Of Welfare Benefits  

To put it bluntly: New Mexico is having a hard time getting off its collective ass as the social conditions crisis accelerates and as the economy continues to stagnate. The latest:

The history of many young New Mexicans who ended up in juvenile detention shows a brutal betrayal of their innocence and youth. According to a recent groundbreaking study, the amount of trauma some of these New Mexico juvenile offenders experienced – when compared to their peers across the country – was “off the charts.” Many were victims of neglect, abandonment, beatings or rape, and were exposed to family violence, mental illness, drug abuse and more. They had patterns of early childhood abuse and neglect that was seven times higher than similar teens in other national studies. 

Most of these youth were no doubt born to low-income and minority households. It's almost as if we need the Peace Corp here to reverse the directions of these families.  But a solid alternative is a constitutional amendment that would ask voters to put aside a portion of the state's $15 billion Land Grant Permanent School Fund and devote it to very early childhood education, ages zero to five.

Then there's the latest high school graduation rates. Again, it's the disparity between the rich and poor and the Brown and White that's killing us:

La Cueva High School had the best graduation rate at 81.4 percent, though that is down from 2014, when it was 84.2 percent. The lowest rates in the district were at Highland High School, 49.2 percent, and Del Norte High School, 52.4 percent. The APS statistics highlight a perennial concern: the large gap in achievement based on race and socioeconomic status.

That little island of success at La Cueva, representing one of the most affluent and Anglo school districts in the city, is only going to shrink along with the economy as the minority population continues to grow and steps are not taken to reverse the slide. Duh.

Then there's that other crisis over Medicaid funding in which the state can't come up with $86 million that would be matched by at least three to one by the Feds. If it isn't, forecasts say we lose $300 to $500 million. Like the childhood trauma dilemma mentioned above in which the Permanent Fund offers a solution, Medicaid is also soluble, if we only had brave and bold leadership. The news:

Hospital executives. . . are backing a new provider fee imposed on clinics, hospitals, nursing homes and diagnostic services such as radiology that would pump more (Medicaid) money into direct care rather than cutting dollars. They see the fee as an investment that will allow the state to leverage more federal funds. But Gov. Martinez, who has pledged that she won’t increase taxes, has been slow to move forward with such a plan. It may be unthinkable that business leaders would voluntarily step up to assess themselves a provider fee to support Medicaid services. But that what’s happening all over the country. The vast majority of states now impose a range of fees that scoop up added federal dollars to support the growing Medicaid population.

Martinez and the Republicans have locked themselves into a strait jacket of no tax increases or fee increases of any kind ever--no matter what. They can't be blamed entirely for the worsening social conditions crisis that's been decades in the making but their obstinacy in seeking any solutions places the political blame squarely at their doorstep, along with their Democratic cohorts who join with them.

Meantime, if cutbacks are the order of the day, the quality of health care provided by Medicaid is going to suffer, doctors will flee and the state's huge underclass will be even more stuck.

READER ANGLES

More angles on this from the readers. Dr. Randy Brown writes:

Here’s an interesting fact. Physicians must pay gross receipts tax on Medicaid payments. Let’s see, seems like the state could recapture $24 million in gross receipts if they took the federal money. Not to mention paying physicians a reasonable fee for Medicaid patients. I can’t believe they can’t see this.


Felicia Salazar writes:

It would also be beneficial to point out the misuse this administration demonstrated when it falsely accused 15 behavioral health care providers of fraud and cost New Mexico more than 1,600 jobs. The state spent $28.8 million dollars to chase what ultimately was found to be $1.16 million in billing irregularities.  This is particularly devastating given that we must close an $86 million Medicaid shortfall or risk losing $417 million in services when counting the federal match. At a time when we need every cent invested in the state, more than $28 million was wasted on closing down behavioral health services in the state, putting New Mexicans out of work and bringing in Arizona companies to replace them - who have now since left because they did not find the work profitable enough.

Norman Gagne writes:

Your April 28 blog about the Medicaid Mess is spot on and in more ways than first meet the eye. The March New Mexico Labor Market Review lists "Education & Health Services" next to "Leisure & Hospitality" as one of the fastest growing jobs segments (4.4% of the Albuquerque market year over year and 5.1% statewide) of the New Mexico economy. . . To let over $400,000,000 in Federal matching funds slip away this year for what seem to be political reasons not only denies care to needy New Mexicans but also strikes at one of the most vigorous segments of the state's anemic economy. 

And like us reader James Rivera ponders the hundreds of millions of capital outlay money that goes unspent in the face of the Medicaid debacle:

Capital Outlay for many years has been a kettle over the fire brewing. However, millions sit in the pot with no action year after year. There was a reversion of Capital Outlay monies by the Legislature in 2010 after the economic crash at the end of 2008 and it garnered tens of millions of dollars back from local governments. The problem with tens of millions sitting around is that legislators continue to give extensions year after year to Municipalities, Counties, Tribal governments etc., for that unspent Capital Outlay.

WELFARE SCANDAL BREWS

Like the econ beat, the social conditions crisis beat goes on and on, Now comes this shocker. Is it a scandal that will widen?:

Five state employees testified in federal court that they falsified income information on emergency applications for people seeking welfare benefits, resulting in wrongly denied food assistance to the poorest citizens in the state. . . The state workers said they sometimes entered false asset information on emergency requests for food assistance as a part of a state policy created just as Gov. Martinez’s administration came under federal scrutiny for its high rates of denying emergency requests for aid. The Human Services Department is required to fulfill emergency food requests within seven days of receiving an application for such assistance. Yet the employees, testifying under oath, said they sometimes altered the requests to reflect that those applying for the assistance had up to $400 in assets that did not exist, leading to the applications being denied or delayed.

How far up the chain of state government command does this one go? Stay tuned.

SPONSORED CONTENT 

New Mexico First, a bipartisan public policy organization is hosting a  town hall on the state's economy. Help create recommendations for New Mexico's leaders. Click here to register.

THE BOTTOM LINES

Blogging NM
Jean Bernstein, an owner of the ABQ Flying Star restaurant chain, writes of the federal lawsuit she is party to that seeks to stop Mayor Berry's controversial ART project that would run rapid buses down a large stretch of Central Avenue and reduce traffic to one lane: She says:

Joe, The City has hired a high-powered law firm from Washington, D. C. to defend itself against little Concerned Citizens. They have five lawyers on the case.  This lawsuit has an excellent chance but more funds are necessary so we are having an "Make ART Smart Fundraiser" ad the Nob Hill Bar and Grill May 4th at 6:00 PM/ Complimentary beer, wine and appetizer. . . 

Thanks to the NM Public Relations Society for having us for lunch and a panel discussion on social media, along with ABQ Journal editor Kent Walz and ABQ First Amendment attorney Chuck Peifer. It went well, with no punches being thrown. 

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