By Mary McPhail Gray
Sometimes in our lives as members of a democracy, we have the opportunity to stand for justice, compassion and fairness. Such an opportunity is up right now as the New Mexico Legislature winds down its session in a flurry of activity.
We at Taos Behavioral Health serve clients with great needs for community compassion and support. Approximately eighty percent of our clients live below or just above the official federal poverty line. This is also reflected in the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Kids Count National Database that names New Mexico as 50th in Child Well-Being in 2018. Over the past 19 years, New Mexico was once (1990) 40th in the nation. For the past seven years, we have been 49th or 50th. This is a chronic tragedy for our families — especially our youth.
Well-being is determined by economic well-being, education, health, and family and community. In all of these areas, we find our clients fighting to get ahead — to solve problems and realize their dreams for themselves and family members. One of the glaring issues is poverty — jobs with minimum wages, high stress, few benefits and little stability — or no job at all.
These factors erode the physical and mental health of our community. Being so often caught with little power to make a difference in their lives creates anger, depression and despair. Providing for their family needs is always a fight over competing demands — food, clothing, rent, transportation, and medical services. None of these are trivial or dispensable. Familes become skilled at bartering and sharing and asking for family help.
In order to receive our services, we ask that our clients present insurance information and pay a co-pay amount that is possible for them. We believe this creates buy-in and commitment on their part to heal, grow and empower themselves with our support. We respect the fact that they come to us with sorrow and frustration —but that they take the courageous step to make changes.
Then something like the bills being considered in the New Mexico Legislature can knock them over. Bills SB 421, SB 484, and SB 585 include provisions to add 3 to the 8.5% tax on food purchases. This has not been our practice in New Mexico for 15 years. Yet somehow special interests see food tax as a public resource — when we see food as a human right. A human right to support health, growth, and freedom from disease and despair.
Our deep anger rises when we realize that a family of four living on a minimum wage job will have to spend $952 a year out of their annual pay of $15,600 to satisfy this demand. Hidden in every grocery bill is not another gallon of milk or poultry or vegetables — but a payment “to the state.” We also know that food pantries and congregate feeding sites will be impacted by these taxes, so less food is available for those in need.
Come — we are better than this!
We can express our outrage at this regressive tax which is most cruel to those already in need. Those who wish to support this tax have even talked about attaching it to the omnibus spending bill, so the Governor — who has promised to veto this action — would be trapped and unable to express her choice against the need to finish a budget.
So — call, email and visit our representatives immediately! Senator Cisneros at firstname.lastname@example.org , 505-986-4362 and Representative Gonzales at Roberto.email@example.com, 505-986-4319. Express your compassion for our fellow residents and show the compassion that is deep in New Mexico. Ask that this action not be taken — we must find other ways to make the budget work. Food justice is human justice.
Taos Behavioral Health has the largest staff of licensed and credentialed behavioral health professionals in northern New Mexico. Visit us at www.Taosbehavioralhealth.org of 105 Bertha in Taos. Call us at 575-758-4297
Mary McPhail Gray is the Board Chair of TBH. She can be reached at 575-779-3126 or firstname.lastname@example.org