NM’s Disgraceful Legacy of Child Hunger, Illiteracy and Well Being; Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s Goal To Ending Child Hunger Within One Year

The number one favorite photo opportunity of former Republican Governor “She Who Must Not Be Named” over her entire 8 years as Governor of New Mexico, was reading children’s books to kids ages 6 to 10 in public schools. New Mexico has learned the real reason why the Republican Governor was reading to the children: the kids were not proficient enough to read their own books out loud to the Republican Governor. Last year in a District Court landmark case, the court ruled that the former Republican Governor’s failed education policies contributed to New Mexico’s failed public education system.

It is also likely all those New Mexico school children the Republican Governor was reading to could only hear the sound of their empty stomachs “grumbling” from being empty from hunger. New Mexico’s is ranked #1 in child hunger. New Mexico has a shameful legacy of child hunger, child illiteracy and child well being, but there are reasons for hope.


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 organizations it has provides meals to more than 46 million people each year.

Every year, Feeding American conducts a survey known as the “Map the Meal Gap” 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 the “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.



On January 22, 2019, the annual Quality Counts report by the national Education Week magazine was released. The study found that New Mexico is dead last or 50th out of 50 states and the District of Columbia, with a score of 66.2, or a D when it comes to public education. Mississippi edged out New Mexico with a D+ this year, earning a score of 66.8. Nevada earned 65 or a D grade. The national studies say that a high poverty rate is hindering children.

Quality Counts, now in its 22nd year, reviews three components of each state’s education system: funding distribution, student achievement and what the report calls its “chance-for-success” index. New Mexico earned a D + in the chance for success index which measures an education system’s effect on children from preschool to college and career. The state showed slight gains in the number of children enrolled in early childhood education programs and a bump in its high school graduation rate over the year.

New Mexico earned its worst grade, a D-, in achievement. Scores on standardized tests in the state remain dismal, with just 19.7% of students in grades 3-11 showing proficiency in math and 28.6% proficiency in language arts on the most recent round of PARCC exams, administered by a consortium of states called the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers.


On July 20, 2018, a Santa Fe District Court ruled in the landmark case of “Yazzie-Martinez”, filed in 2014 by the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund alleging that the state of New Mexico and the Republican Governor Administration was violating the constitutional rights of at-risk students by failing to provide them with a sufficient education in reading, writing and math. The lawsuit alleged a severe lack of state funding, resources and services to help students, particularly children from low-income families, students of color, including Native Americans, English-language learners and students with disabilities.

In the blistering District Court ruling against New Mexico’s Public Education System under the previous Republican Governor Administration, the District Court found “the vast majority of New Mexico’s at-risk children finish each school year without the basic literacy and math skills needed to pursue post-secondary education or a career. … overall New Mexico children rank at the very bottom in the country for educational achievement.” According to the court ruling, in New Mexico, 71.6% of the state’s public-school students come from low-income families, and 14.4% are English-language learners. 14.8 percent of students have disabilities, and 10.6 percent are Native American.


The Kids Count Data Book is published annually by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, a nonprofit that tracks the status of children in the United States. The evaluation examines the percentage of children in poverty, the share of fourth graders proficient in reading and a variety of other factors such as economic well-being and health care. The last two reports have been particularly revealing as to how bad things became for New Mexico’s children under the previous Republican Governor “She Who Must Not Be Named”


In 2018, for the first time in five years, the 2018 Kids Count Data Book found a steep drop in New Mexico’s ranking for health care measures which previously was a bright spot for the state. In 2018, New Mexico fell last among states when it comes to the economic, educational and medical well-being of its children. 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.



On June 17, 2019, the 30th edition of the Kids Count report was released. For the third time in seven years, New Mexico came in dead last out of 50 states for child well-being. The state was ranked 50th in 2016, again in 2017 and now in 2018 continuing in to 2019. According to the study, Louisiana was ranked 49th this year, bumping Mississippi up to 48th. Not at all surprising, it is New Mexico’s widespread poverty and lagging education among Native American and rural Hispanics that brings down the state’s overall rankings.

The Kids Count Data Book rankings are based on 16 indicators under four major domains:

1. Economic well-being
2. Education
3. Health and
4. Family and community.


Under the rating category for economic well-being indicators, the statistics break down as follows:

27% of New Mexico children are living in poverty which was a 3% improvement from last year.
28% of New Mexico children live in homes where an unusually large portion of family income goes toward housing costs, a 4% percentage point improvement.
36% of New Mexico children live in homes where parents lack secure employment which is virtually the same from last year.
10% of teens are neither working nor attending school, up 1% point from the previous year.


Under education indicators, not much has changed from the 2019 report. The following statistics were reported:

56% of young children are not in school, a 1% point improvement.
75% of fourth graders are not proficient in reading, unchanged from the previous year.
80% of eighth graders are not proficient in math, unchanged from the previous year.
29% of high school students do not graduate on time, unchanged from the previous year.


Under health indicators, the following statistics were reported:

9.5% of babies are born with low birth weight, a half percentage point worse than last year.
5% of children have no health insurance, unchanged from the previous year.
There are 32 child and teen deaths per 100,000 which is a 1 percentage point improvement.
6% of teens report abusing drugs or alcohol, a 1 percentage point improvement.


Under Family and Community Indicators the following statistics were reported:

45% of children live in single-parent families, a 3% increase from last year.
16% of children live in families where the head of household lacks a high school diploma, a 2% increase from last year.
24% of children live in homes in high poverty areas of the state, 2% worse than last year.
28 babies are born to teens per 1,000 births, a 2% point improvement over last year.


On Wednesday, June 26, 2019, Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham gave the keynote address at the annual “Kids Count Conference” organized by the nonprofit New Mexico Voices for Children and spoke to 500 people gathered for the conference.

During her key note address, Governor Lujan Grisham promised to end child hunger within one year by saying:

“We will look poverty in the face … It is an evil in our state, and it must be dealt a death blow. … Maybe that’s too high of a goal, I don’t care. … New Mexico needs to institute universal food security services and programs in this state and every single philanthropic partner has to be dedicated to making sure no child in this state will ever go hungry again, and I don’t care if it’s a universal snap program. … [It’s going to take] a “wrap around approach” [to fix problems created by the previous administration]. [The national Kids Count ranking] are not indicative, however, of who we are, and they are not indicative of what we are capable of. I unequivocally reject the notion that this is the way it will be because this is the way it has been. … Being 50th in anything is unacceptable … but when our children are at risk, it makes me sick in the pit of my stomach.”

Governor Lujan Grisham said she hopes to organize efforts by philanthropic groups and public agencies to get groceries to hungry New Mexicans, especially children and told the conference:

“Every single person can do something.”

During her keynote speech, Governor Lujan Grisham announced that the state’s Children Youth and Families Department (CYFD) receives about 900 referrals a month in Albuquerque alone. According to the Governor, the referrals usually detail allegations of child abuse and neglect. The governor said the state only has enough people to investigate 200 of those case.
For news media coverage see the below links:




Democrat Governor Lujan Grisham took office January 1, 2019. After just 7 months in office, much has been set in motion that if sustained will indeed will make the goal to end child hunger achievable and make sure New Mexico children will get a quality education.


On March 15, 2019, Democratic Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham finished her very first 60-day Legislative session as Governor. By all accounts, it was one of the most productive sessions in a long time when it comes to the future wellbeing of New Mexico children.

Financial stress over the budget process was greatly reduced from years past by a nearly $2 Billion in additional revenue generated by the Southern New Mexico oil boom and increased royalties filling the state coffers. The 2019 Legislature enacted over a $7 billion state budget. It was the largest budget ever enacted in state history. The legislature appropriated a total education budget at a whopping $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 a 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 were given a major increase in funding. Under the enacted 2019-2020 budget, every public-school district will be allocated significantly more funding. Teachers and school administrators will be given 6% pay raises or more with more money to hire more teachers.


Notwithstanding the 16% increase in education budget over last year’s budget given by the 2019 New Mexico Legislature, the plaintiffs in the landmark District Court case “Yazzie-Martinez” filed a status report on June 29, 2019 describing the state’s efforts to comply with the court order as not being sufficient. They say the state and lawmakers still have not done enough to ensure all students have access to an adequate education, a right guaranteed under the state constitution. You can review the full report at the below link:



During her keynote address to the annual “Kids Count Conference” Governor Lujan Grisham told the audience that that the one thing that has kept her up at night is when she learned that the state Children, Youth and Families Department (CYFD) receives hundreds more referrals based on child abuse and neglect allegations than it has the staff to handle. According to the Governor, the problem is being addressed by expanded hiring efforts to boost staffing and other temporary measures.

Albuquerque and New Mexico for the last 4 years have been shocked and haunted with the news of the tragic and brutal killing of children by their own parents. 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. Lujan Grisham’s enacted budget that takes effect July 1, 2019 calls for an additional $36.5 million for the chronically understaffed CYFD. Under the enacted budget, 102 new social workers are to be hired by the agency’s child’s Protective Services Division. During the Kid’s Count Conference, Lujan Grisham revealed that the state has held hiring events to recruit more CYFD employees and said:

“CYFD is boosting hiring in their protective services division. We did a rapid hire series of events statewide.”


A new “Early Childhood Department” was created by the 2019 New Mexico Legislature starting in January 2020. This was a major priority of 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.


The rankings and financial numbers relating to New Mexico’s children are depressing and staggering with some downright disgraceful:

** New Mexico ranks 50th for at risk of childhood in hunger and “food insecurity.”
** New Mexico is dead 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 approve an education budget of $3.2 Billion out of a $7 billion budget, increasing the education budget by 16% over last year’s budget which still may not be enough.
**The 2019 New Mexico legislature approved $36.5 million for the chronically understaffed Children, Youth and Families Department after 8 years of budget cuts.

When Governor Lujan Grisham told the Kids Count conference “Being 50th in anything is unacceptable … but when our children are at risk, it makes me sick in the pit of my stomach”, the truth is, ranking dead last in child well being, first in child hunger and last in education should make every New Mexican sick to our stomach. It is very difficult to read, let alone accept, that New Mexico ranks dead last the third year in a row for child well-being. With that in mind, the state now has only one direction to go now and that is up when it comes to the welfare of our children.

There is a direct correlation between a family’s overall income and child well being. When employment rates go up, child well being also goes up. After 10 years of the great recession, the New Mexico’s unemployment rate is appears to be finally coming down. The national unemployment rate in April, 2019 was 3.6 percent, down from 3.8 percent in March 2019 and 3.9 percent in April 2018. On April 17, 2019, the New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions reported that New Mexico’s adjusted unemployment rate was 4.3 percent, when in 2010, New Mexico’s unemployment rate was 8.1%. Source: https://www.statista.com/statistics/190696/unemployment-rate-in-new-mexico-since-1992/

The 16% increase in the education budget, the creation of the Department of Early Childhood, the $36.5 million increase for the understaffed Children, Youth and Families Department which includes funding for 102 new social workers for the agency’s child’s Protective Services Division, and the decline in New Mexico’s unemployment rate, reflects that progress is indeed being made towards improving the future of New Mexico’s Children.

No doubt many will say Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham’s promise to end child hunger within one year was for show and not realistic. It is likely these are the same people who believed that the former Republican Governor reading to kids was not for show and that those kids could read their own books. At least real commitments have now been made. Governor Lujan Grisham no doubt realizes voters will hold her to her promise, but even if it takes her entire 4 years in office to end child hunger, not just the one year as promised, and improve New Mexico’s rankings in child wellbeing, so be it and her legacy will last generations.

It will take time before New Mexico’s public education system will get better and our child well being ranking made any better. For that reason, the debate over using a small portion of the state’s $17 billion Land Grant Permanent fund for early childhood education, care and intervention needs to continue. Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham should continue her efforts to give major attention to use of the State’s Land Grant and Permanent Fund to finally solve many of our early childhood education, care and intervention problems.

With a little persistence and hard work, in 4 years, Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham could be doing photo ops with kids ages 6 to 10 reading their children’s books to her while at the same time looking forward to the lunch being prepared in their school cafeteria. However, it will also take a real commitment by the New Mexico Legislature to realize the crisis is real and now is the time to act. Our kids’ lives, health, education and future depend on it.

You can read a related blog article at the below link:

Enacted NM $3.2 Billion Dollar Public Education Budget Claimed Not To Be Enough; $7.3 Million Shortfall For Pre-Kindergarten Programs Announced

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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.