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Food insecurity, depression increase in New Mexico, Doña Ana County


New Mexico performs well on access to health care but is falling short on food security and mental wellness, according to the recent household data in “Kids, Families and COVID-19: Pandemic Pain Points and a Roadmap for Recovery,” a 50-state report developed by the Annie E. Casey Foundation (AECF) analyzing how families are faring during the COVID-19 pandemic.

A news release from the nonprofit New Mexico Voices for Children (NMVC) said the report, citing U.S. Census data, shows 20 percent of New Mexico households with children sometimes or often do not have enough to eat. Only one other state – Mississippi – has as high a rate, while the national average for food insecurity is 14 percent.

New Mexico also has the highest rate – 27 percent – of adults living in households with children who feel down, depressed or hopeless. Mississippi and Pennsylvania also have a rate of 27 percent in this category, while the national average is 21 percent, the report said.

New Mexico’s overall food insecurity rate increased from 15 percent in 2018 to an estimated 21 percent in 2020, NMVC said, based on the national nonprofit Feeding America’s “Impact of the Coronavirus on Local Food Insecurity” report. For Doña Ana County, the report showed overall food insecurity increased from 15.7 percent in 2018 to 21.3 percent in 2020, and child food insecurity increased from 25.8 to 35.8 percent during the same period.

The AECF report also looked at whether families believe they will be able to make their next rent or mortgage payment and if they have health insurance. In New Mexico, 18 percent of adults with children said they have slight or no confidence in being able to pay their rent or mortgage, which is the same as the national rate. Eleven percent do not have health insurance, which is better than the national rate of 12 percent.

An August 2020 report from WalletHub (https://wallethub.com/edu/best-worst-states-underprivileged-children/5403) showed New Mexico with the most underprivileged children per capita in the United States, and with the second highest rate of child food-insecurity. New Mexico was the fourth highest in children living in single-parent families and the second highest in percentage of children living in households with below-poverty income, WalletHub said.

Casa de Peregrinos emergency food program in Doña Ana County

“Food insecurity has been an issue in our county for some time now. Right now, the pandemic has put it in the spotlight,” said Lorenzo Alba, executive director of Casa de Peregrinos emergency food program.

Alba said food insecurity is much higher in some parts of Doña Ana County than others, with communities in the southern part of the county, including Sunland Park, Anapra, Santa Teresa, La Union and Chaparral dealing with the most serious food-insecurity issues.

“We are working on a project to distribute more food in the southern part of Doña Ana County,” Alba said. “We’re in this for the long haul. The pandemic will take a few years to recover from economically. We are planning for the worst to come in the next few months. We can always use monetary donations.”

Fifty dollars, he said, provides 300 meals at Casa de Peregrinos, while $100 feeds an average family for a month. Donations of any amount are welcome.

To donate, visit www.casadeperegrinos.org or call 575-523-5542.

Contact NMVC at 505-244-9505. Visit www.nmvoices.org.

Las Cruces legislator: Diversify the state’s economy

Dealing with food security and mental health issues in New Mexico is “really about economic diversification and how we invest in our communities,” said state Rep. Angelica Rubio, D-Doña Ana, who is a professional community organizer.

“It’s really how we are actually looking at this from building a new economy for New Mexico,” Rubio said.

“With our volatile relationship with oil and gas and the ups and downs of that economy, it’s really put us in dire straits in terms of our ability to look ahead and plan ahead,” Rubio, who begins her fifth year in the New Mexico House of Representatives in January, said. “I feel like we operate from year to year, and that impacts our communities, especially our children.”

Reforming the state’s tax code is an important part of diversifying New Mexico’s economy, Rubio said, and that is “actively being done at the moment,” as individuals and organizations across the state talk to legislators about the issue.

Rubio said she has had nearly 200 conversations with people across the state to gather their thoughts and ideas about economic diversity.

“We always talk about it, but nobody does anything about it,” Rubio said. Now, however, “there are some of us trying to do something about it.”

People are “super excited” about the work that is going on to rebuild the state’s economy, she said.

It’s “exciting to hear,” Rubio said, “especially when folks have been feeling so hopeless around COVID and feeling like there’s no hope for small business. We are in position to re-imagine – and create – something different for ourselves.”

“I think there are a lot of opportunities,” she said. “We’ve just got to be bold and not be afraid to take some chances. Our kids, the next generation, are depending on it.”

New Mexico Voices for Children