New Mexico Ranks #1 In Child Hunger; Hunger Not Only Problem Facing Our Kids

Feeding America is the largest hunger-relief organization in the United States. It has a network of 200 food banks and 60,000 food pantries and meal programs scattered throughout the United States. Altogether, the network of organization provides meals to more than 46 million people each year.

Every year, Feeding American conducts a survey known as the “Map the Meal Gap 2019” annual report to identify the extent of at risk of childhood hunger and “food insecurity.” Food insecurity is defined as “inability of individuals or families to know where a portion of their food will come from at any given time.”

According to the just-released 2019 report from Feeding America, 24.1% of children and young teenagers age 18 and younger in New Mexico, or one of every four children, are at risk of childhood hunger and food insecurity making New Mexico’s rank dead last in the country. In 2018 “Map the Meal Gap” also ranked New Mexico as dead last, and in the 2017, the state ranked 49th.

Arkansas is this year’s 49th place holder with 23.6% of children at risk for childhood hunger followed by Louisiana ranked 48th with 23% and Mississippi at 47th with 22.9%. According to the “Map the Meal Gap” report, the states with the fewest percentage of kids who are at risk of food hunger are North Dakota, ranked first with 9.8% of kids, followed by Massachusetts at 11.7%, New Hampshire with 12.3% and Minnesota with 12.6%.

What is striking is how pervasive hunger in New Mexico really is. The Map the Meal Gap reported that 324,000 people of all ages or 15.8% in the State of New Mexico are at risk of hunger. The report ranked the worst five counties in New Mexico with the highest percentage of child hunger and they are: McKinley County with 33.5%, Luna County with 33.4%; Cibola and Catron Counties each with 30.4%; and Sierra County 27.8%.

According to Roadrunner Food Bank spokeswoman, Sonya Warwick, the actual cause of the problem are many factors and she said:

“In some instances, that food insecurity results from adults in a family having unreliable seasonal jobs, or hourly workers suddenly finding that their hours were reduced, people who are unemployed or underemployed, those facing homelessness, domestic violence or health issues. … [Many people fall into the gray area] “where they’re still very poor, but make just over what might qualify them for federal food assistance programs.”

The biggest single factor causing New Mexico’s child hunger and “food insecurity” is the number of children who live in poverty. New Mexico is near the top of this list also. A spokeswoman for New Mexico Voices for Children, said 27% of kids in our state live in poverty, ranking us 49th on this list, tied with Mississippi, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau. Only Louisiana fares worse, ranked in 50th place with 28% of kids living in poverty.


For the first time in five years, New Mexico has fallen to last among states when it comes to the economic, educational and medical well-being of its children, according to a nonprofit that tracks the status of U.S. kids. According to the 2018 Kids Count Data Book, 30% of New Mexico’s children were living in poverty in 2016, compared to 19% nationwide that year, the earliest figures available. In educational measures, the report says 75% of the state’s fourth-graders were not proficient in reading in 2017, compared to 65% nationally, and 80% of eighth-graders were not performing up to par in math in 2017, compared to 67% across the U.S. The most troubling in the 2018 Kids Count Data Book is New Mexico’s steep drop in ranking for health care measures which previously was a bright spot for the state.

In New Mexico, 71.6% of the state’s public-school students come from low-income families, and 14.4% are English-language learners. Further, 14.8 percent of students have disabilities, and 10.6 percent are Native American. Proficiency rates for Native American students in the past 3 years, was at 17.6% and their math proficiency was at 10.4%.


During the 2019 New Mexico Legislative session, the legislature approved an education budget of $3.2 Billion, 16% over last year’s budget, out of the total budget of $7 Billion. Included in the budget is a $500 million in additional funding for K-12 education and increases in teacher pay.

The massive infusion of funding to public education is the result of the District Court ruling that ruled the state of New Mexico is violating the constitutional rights of at-risk students by failing to provide them with a sufficient education. The District Court found that many New Mexico students are not receiving the basic education in reading, writing and math they should be receiving in our public-school system.

Early childhood programs will be given a major increase in funding. Under the enacted 2019-2020 budget, every public-school district will be allocated significantly more funding. Teachers have not had any raises to speak of for the last 8 years. Teachers and school administrators will be given 6% pay raises with more money to hire teachers.

A new “Early Childhood Department” was created starting in January 2020. This was a major priority of the Governor Lujan Grisham. The new department will focus state resources on children from birth to 5 years of age. A major goal of the new department, coupled with other investments, will be more New Mexico children growing up to secure gainful employment as adults who don’t require government services.


APS has an approved 2018-2018 approved budget of $1.38 Billion. Albuquerque Public Schools (APS) is New Mexico’s largest school district, serving more than a fourth of the state’s students and nearly 84,000 students.

The ethnicity of the APS 84,000 students is:

65.8% Hispanic
22.9% Caucasian/White
5.5% American Indian
3.2% African American
2.3% Asian American
0.2% are “other”

Of the 84,000 APS students 16.6% are classified as “English Learners”, 17.2% are classified as “Students with Disabilities”, and 5.9% are in gifted programs. There are 29 APS authorized charter schools with 7,100 students attending the charter schools.

APS is among the top 40 largest school districts in the nation and the largest in New Mexico. APS operates 142 schools consisting of 4 K-8 schools, 88 elementary schools (K through 8th grade), 27 middle schools (6-8 th grade), 21 high schools (9th to 12th grade) and 2 alternative schools.

APS serves many students in need with nearly two-thirds qualifying for the federal school meals program. The school district serves 29,000 breakfast per school day and 41,000 lunches per school day.


Albuquerque and New Mexico during the last 4 to 8 years has been stunned, shocked and haunted with the news of the tragic and brutal killing of children by their own parents. Eight years ago, the former Republican Governor was elected in part because of publicity she garnered as an elected District Attorney prosecuting the “Baby Brianna” child abuse case. Lest anyone forget, baby Brianna Lopez was the 5-month old who was brutally raped and beat to death in 2002 by her own mother. Since 2001, in New Mexico, no less than 24 children, ranging from ages of 5 weeks old to 3, 4, 5 months old to 3, 4, 5, and 11 years old, have been killed as a result of child physical and sexual abuse.

(Re: August 31, 2016 Albuquerque Journal Editorial Guest column by Allen Sanchez.)

Media reports all too often have included reports where those children had fallen through the cracks of law enforcement and the New Mexico’s Children, Youth and Families Department. The New Mexico legislature allocated an additional $36.5 million for the chronically understaffed Children, Youth and Families Department. Under the enacted budget, 102 new social workers are to be hired by the agency’s child’s Protective Services Division.


The rankings and financial numbers are depressing and staggering:

** New Mexico ranks 50th for at risk of childhood in hunger and “food insecurity.”

** New Mexico is last among states when it comes to the economic, educational and medical well-being of children.

** 27% of New Mexico kids live in poverty, ranking New Mexico 49th on this list.

** 75% of the state’s fourth-graders were not proficient in reading in 2017, compared to 65% nationally, and 80% of eighth-graders were not performing up to par in math in 2017, compared to 67% across the U.S.

** In 2019, the New Mexico legislature approves an education budget of $3.2 Billion out of a $7 billion budget, increasing the education budget by 16% over last year’s budget.

**The 2019 New Mexico legislature approved $36.5 million for the chronically understaffed Children, Youth and Families Department

** APS approve a 2018-2018 budget of $1.38 Billion.

When it is all said and done, and the money spent and long gone, there is no guarantee that New Mexico rankings will get any better when it comes to children living in poverty.
Notwithstanding, Albuquerque and New Mexico, and all of its leaders, have a moral obligation to do something to address poverty, children living in poverty and to protect our most venerable population, its children.

Our children’s lives, their future and our future depend upon it.

Jesus said: “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”
— Matthew 19:13-14

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Pete Dinelli was born and raised in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He is of Italian and Hispanic descent. He is a 1970 graduate of Del Norte High School, a 1974 graduate of Eastern New Mexico University with a Bachelor's Degree in Business Administration and a 1977 graduate of St. Mary's School of Law, San Antonio, Texas. Pete has a 40 year history of community involvement and service as an elected and appointed official and as a practicing attorney in Albuquerque. Pete and his wife Betty Case Dinelli have been married since 1984 and they have two adult sons, Mark, who is an attorney and George, who is an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT). Pete has been a licensed New Mexico attorney since 1978. Pete has over 27 years of municipal and state government service. Pete’s service to Albuquerque has been extensive. He has been an elected Albuquerque City Councilor, serving as Vice President. He has served as a Worker’s Compensation Judge with Statewide jurisdiction. Pete has been a prosecutor for 15 years and has served as a Bernalillo County Chief Deputy District Attorney, as an Assistant Attorney General and Assistant District Attorney and as a Deputy City Attorney. For eight years, Pete was employed with the City of Albuquerque both as a Deputy City Attorney and Chief Public Safety Officer overseeing the city departments of police, fire, 911 emergency call center and the emergency operations center. While with the City of Albuquerque Legal Department, Pete served as Director of the Safe City Strike Force and Interim Director of the 911 Emergency Operations Center. Pete’s community involvement includes being a past President of the Albuquerque Kiwanis Club, past President of the Our Lady of Fatima School Board, and Board of Directors of the Albuquerque Museum Foundation.