As the new administration and Congress prepare to take over in Washington, many citizens in Taos County, and millions of Americans are asking: “What happens next?” Most believe the new Congress will waste no time in attempting to make radical changes in the social safety net, dismantling SNAP (formerly food stamps) and Medicaid that allow millions of people nationwide and thousands in New Mexico to make ends meet every year. The two largest anti-poverty programs impacting the elderly: Social Security and Medicare could also be threatened.
Census information shows that 21.3 percent of New Mexicans live below the poverty line. In Taos County, the percentage is 23.7 percent, compared to the national average of 15 percent. The situation for children is worse; 31 percent, or 157,000 New Mexico children, live in poverty and are eligible for Medicaid, compared with 22 percent nationwide. While federal anti-poverty programs have allowed millions of Americans to move out of poverty, potential actions by Congress could put those programs in jeopardy.
The media, constitutionally protected to ensure “an informed electorate," needs to cover and thoroughly evaluate the implications of losing these programs through congressional actions – something not done in recent years and during the election. And our representatives need to hear from their constituents about how important these programs are to them. We are fortunate that New Mexico's two senators, Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich, and two of its congressional representatives, Ben Ray Luján and Michelle Lujan Grisham, are on the right side of this issue. But they need our thanks and our support in the face of the Republican-controlled Congress, and they need to be reminded regularly how critical the maintenance of these programs is for Taos County residents.
What is left at this point is our free press and the people. Both need to step up and expose the dangers of losing this safety net and its importance to the lives of children, families and the elderly.