Pandemic relief spending package headed to governor’s desk

By: - December 16, 2021 6:23 pm

Volunteers Veronica Rodriguez (left) and Virginia Flores process donated food at the Food Bank of the Rockies in Denver. N.M. food banks are running out of money, a lobbyist for N.M. food banks said early in the special redistricting session. (Photo by Kevin Moloney / Getty Images)

A spending bill that would use nearly half of the roughly $1.1 billion in remaining federal relief money given to New Mexico under the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 is headed to the governor’s desk.

The New Mexico House of Representatives just after 1 p.m. on Thursday agreed to the state Senate’s amendments to House Bill 2. They passed the latest version of the bill on a voice vote, without a roll call vote that would have recorded the vote of each individual senator.

The $478 million would go to state agencies, covering housing services, upgrades to state parks, pre-trial services monitoring and a new rural hospital.

$478 million for state needs passed by the NM Senate, despite fears of a rushed process

Money should be distributed shortly after it is signed by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham. She also has the option of vetoing it.

The Senate changed language in the bill about money for remediating orphan wells to include orphaned “and inactive” wells at the request of the state’s Department of Energy, Minerals, and Natural Resources.

House Minority Floor Leader James Townsend (R-Artesia) asked whether the “inactive” term in the bill would shut down any wells or force companies to prematurely plug wells.

House Speaker Brian Egolf said the change was required by the federal pandemic relief law and would not cause hardship for the oil and gas industry.

The amended version also axed $26 million in additional funding to the Department of Information Technology, because the agency didn’t need the money.

The bill also contains $5 million for food banks but a lobbyist for the New Mexico Association of Food Banks and the state’s restaurant association previously told lawmakers that is not nearly enough.

Lawmakers to take swing at spending $470 million

“Most of our food banks will find themselves out of food by February at the rate that this is going,” Allison Smith said. She asked lawmakers for a minimum of $15 million as quickly as possible.

Rep. Stefani Lord (R-Sandia Park) asked why the $26 million taken out of the Information Technology budget wasn’t moved to the food bank budget.

“We should have put more money in that (food bank budget),” Lord said.

Rep. Patricia Lundstrom (D-Gallup) said “I would be stressed to try to explain what Senate Finance does, so I don’t think I could give you a good answer.” 

More details about what’s in the spending package can be found here.

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Austin Fisher
Austin Fisher

Austin Fisher is a journalist based in Santa Fe. He has worked for newspapers in New Mexico and his home state of Kansas, including the Topeka Capital-Journal, the Garden City Telegram, the Rio Grande SUN and the Santa Fe Reporter. Since starting a full-time career in reporting in 2015, he’s aimed to use journalism to lift up voices that typically go unheard in public debates around economic inequality, policing and environmental racism.