NM ranks low for student debt
Approximately 228,000 New Mexicans have student loan debt and may benefit from the student debt relief program unveiled yesterday by President Joe Biden. In short, the Department of Education will provide up to $20,000 in debt cancellation to Pell Grant recipients with loans held by the Department of Education, and up to $10,000 in debt cancellation to non-Pell Grant recipients. Borrowers are eligible for this relief if their individual income is less than $125,000 ($250,000 for married couples). According to US Department of Education data, New Mexico—as of March 2022—had $7.8 billion in debt, ranking 40th, with just under 11% of residents having student debt (Wallet Hub, using a different methodology that incorporates additional metrics, such as grant and student work opportunities, ranked New Mexico 47th). On average borrowers here owe approximately $43,000. The relative lack of student debt in New Mexico likely stems in part from the state’s lottery scholarship program, which expanded last year to provide free to near-tuition-free college to many residents. “This is an incredible positive step forward that will make a difference for thousands of New Mexicans,” Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham tweeted yesterday regarding the new federal student loan forgiveness. “This action will build on the work we’ve done here in New Mexico to make college and trades training tuition-free for New Mexicans of all ages.” Republican gubernatorial candidate Mark Ronchetti, on the other hand, stated his opposition to the debt relief, tweeting he opposed “Biden’s elitist bailout,” which he described as requiring “working class New Mexicans” to “pay the student loan bill for the wealthiest among us who carry the majority of the debt.”
NM ranks high for alcohol abuse
New Mexico has the highest alcohol-related death rate in the US, with 1,878 deaths from excessive alcohol-related causes in 2020. Those causes included alcohol dependence and liver disease, but also incorporated other cancers, suicide, vehicular accidents, falls and homicides. Excessive use of alcohol also is associated with violent crime, including sexual assault and child abuse. State health and law enforcement officials discussed these statistics yesterday in a presentation to legislators on the Courts, Corrections & Justice Committee. Aryan Showers, director of the health department’s Office of Policy and Accountability, began the presentation by acknowledging the recent New Mexico In Depth series on alcohol abuse in New Mexico. “Alcohol has been a pretty serious problem in New Mexico for quite a long time,” Showers said. “I realize there was a series of articles that came out recently that was pretty alarming to a lot of legislators and policymakers in the state. But, you know, it’s important to be mindful that this is truly a generational problem, that we’ve had really high rates for probably at least 30 years in the state of New Mexico. From a public health perspective…there’s not a simple solution to the problem.” While it remains unclear how or if lawmakers will seek to address the state’s problems with alcohol in next year’s session, they discussed a variety of ideas—from expanding technology in cars to expanding behavioral health services—during yesterday’s all-day hearing on the topic.
Feds expand fire disaster relief for NM
The White House yesterday announced it will reimburse New Mexico for 100% of the costs associated with debris removal and other emergency protective measures the state is taking in the aftermath of the Hermits Peak/Calf Canyon and other devastating wildfires. “I thank President Biden for his action to ensure that the federal government shoulders the cost of important recovery efforts as New Mexicans continue to be impacted by the aftermath of historic wildfires and flooding in the burn scars,” Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said in a statement. “I have pushed at every step for the federal government to take responsibility and deliver support to New Mexico, and I will keep pushing to make affected communities whole.” While the Hermits Peak/Calf Canyon Fire is now 100% contained, wildfire officials report ongoing activity, with 521 personnel assigned to the incident. That activity includes assessments on roads and identifying culverts in need of repair. Chipping and fence repair efforts continue in areas deemed safe from flooding. In the northwest section, firefighters expect log extraction to begin, weather conditions permitting, with wood distributed to communities around the fire or otherwise made available to the public over the next couple of months.
COVID-19 by the numbers
New cases: 596; 608,006 total cases
Deaths: eight; Santa Fe County has had 338 total deaths; there have been 8,386 fatalities statewide. Statewide hospitalizations: 138. Patients on ventilators: 12
Case rates: According to the state health department’s most recent report on geographical trends for the seven-day period of Aug. 15-21, Santa Fe County’s case rate continues to decline and was at 20.5 compared to 26.3 the prior week. The state recorded 3,839 cases statewide—based on reported cases—over the seven-day period, a nearly 15% decrease from the previous week.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s most recent update for COVID-19 “community levels,” Santa Fe County has green, or low levels. The state map, which updates each Thursday for the prior seven-day period, uses a framework that combines case rates with hospital metrics. Santa Fe is now one of 13 counties with green or low levels and only four—down from 11 last week—have “red” or high levels. The community levels site has accompanying recommendations at the bottom of the page. The CDC also provides a quarantine and isolation calculator.
Resources: Vaccine registration; Booster registration Free at-home rapid antigen tests; Self-report a positive COVID-19 test result to the health department; New Curative testing site: 9 am to 5 pm, Monday-Friday, Santa Fe Technology Department, 2516 Cerrillos Road; COVID-19 treatment info: oral treatments Paxlovid (age 12+) and Molnupiravir (age 18+); and monoclonal antibody treatments. Toolkit for immunocompromised individuals. People seeking treatment who do not have a medical provider can call NMDOH’s COVID-19 hotline at 1-855-600-3453. Vaccines for children: Parents of children ages 6 months to 5 years can now schedule appointments for vaccinations at VaccineNM.org.
You can read all of SFR’s COVID-19 coverage here.
The New Mexico History Museum announced this week the Fray Angélico Chávez History Library has completed the work associated with a $15,119 grant from Recordings at Risk to digitize more than 200 unique audio recordings made by award-winning photographer and cinematographer John S. Candelario. “John Candelario’s life work consisted of documenting the songs, stories and faces of everyday New Mexicans,” Alicia M. Romero, head curator for New Mexico History Museum, said in a statement. “The newly digitized and transcribed sound recordings, when heard in conjunction with his photos, help us understand New Mexico from Candelario’s perspective. As a cultural border-crosser, Candelario’s ability to work in diverse communities—and record their voices, songs, and stories—is an accomplishment that few people can claim.” You can listen to those recordings here.
The great outdoors
Six Santa Fe organizations received funds from the state Outdoor Recreation Division’s equity fund as part of the 2022 grant cycle announced yesterday. The outdoor equity program—designed to ensure access to New Mexico’s natural resources—has granted $2 million to 130 organizations throughout the state since Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed the Outdoor Equity Fund into law in April 2019. In addition to state funds, the equity fund includes donations from private sponsors: the Wilderness Society, the Turner Foundation, The North Face and REI. The most recent grants amount to more than $800,000 to 47 organizations. In Santa Fe, they include $20,000 each to Mountain Kids!, New Mexico School for the Arts, Reunity Resources and YouthWorks; $13,500 to the Railyard Park Conservancy; and $2,130 to Reading Quest. “There are some truly incredible programs in this third round of Outdoor Equity Fund grants,” ORD Director Axie Navas said in a statement. “Other states, and the country as a whole, are paying attention to the grassroots outdoor equity work happening in New Mexico. We are leading the way.”
Climbing the walls
Taos Ski Valley’s Via Ferrata receives mention in the New York Times’ list of “five spots to explore” in a story examining the growing popularity of via ferrata routes in the US. “Though climbing a via ferrata may look like a daredevil outing,” Cindy Hirschfeld writes, “it’s more attainable than you might think. The challenges tilt toward psychological rather than physical.” In brief, via ferratas—”iron way” in Italian—provide protected climbing routes via permanent cables, handholds and ladders, making the climbs accessible to folks who might otherwise balk. In the case of Taos, the story notes, the via ferrata is “set among ancient granite buttresses, talus fields and sweet-scented subalpine fir and spruce trees below the ski area’s 12,481-foot Kachina Peak,” providing “lofty vistas of northern New Mexico’s Wheeler Peak Wilderness, named after the state’s highest mountain, which is also visible” (here’s a video sample). “Guided trips begin with a chairlift ride over wildflower-studded meadows to the basin below Kachina.”
The waning days of summer
The National Weather Service forecasts another day of isolated showers and thunderstorms after noon with a 20% chance for precipitation today and tonight. Otherwise, today will be mostly sunny with a high near 80 degrees.