February 12, 2015

Udall Announces Major Legislation to Improve Health and Well-being of New Mexico Children

SONG Act grew out of Udall's child well-being workshops in ABQ; incorporates insights from N.M. child health & education experts to help N.M. children access health & education services

Next week, in speech to state Legislature, Udall will urge lawmakers to set a goal to lift New Mexico from the bottom of child well-being rankings

WASHINGTON - Today, U.S. Senator Tom Udall announced that he has introduced major legislation aimed at helping improve the health and education of New Mexico children by increasing access to federal education and anti-poverty programs. The Saving Our Next Generation (SONG) Act is based on outreach and research Udall conducted over the last year, including workshops that brought together child well-being experts from across the state to discuss how the federal government can help lift New Mexico from the bottom of national rankings for children's well-being.

"Every day across New Mexico, thousands of our children go to bed hungry. Many of these same kids have no structured child care and no way to see a doctor when they get sick. The reasons are complex and complicated, but they aren't going to get better unless we all make it a priority to improve the state of child well-being in New Mexico. Not only is this crucial for our kids today, but it is a basic step to ensuring children escape the cycle of poverty and become healthy, productive workers," Udall said.

"One major step is to make the investments that will help improve access to education and anti-poverty programs," Udall continued. "That's the purpose of the SONG Act, and I want to thank all of the community leaders and experts who contributed to writing this bill. By streamlining access and fully funding the most effective child well-being programs, the SONG Act will help ensure New Mexico children have the resources they need to grow up healthy and do well in school."

While the SONG Act is oriented toward improving federal programs for children, Udall emphasized that outcomes won't improve unless federal, state and local officials work together in partnership to improve New Mexico child well-being. Next week, in his annual speech to the New Mexico Legislature, Udall will discuss his bill and the need for a coordinated effort to improve child well-being.

The SONG Act calls for streamlining eligibility and fully funding programs that are proven to improve child well-being, such as Medicaid, the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP), Head Start, school meal programs, and housing assistance. Additionally, the SONG Act increases access to proven health and education services while calling on national leadership to assess steps that can be taken to further improve outcomes for our nation's children. Udall is also cosponsoring legislation that complements the SONG Act, including the reauthorization of CHIP; a bill that expands access to pre-Kindergarten education programs; and the SMART Act, to examine the best ways to test for student progress. Udall continues to work on a number of other bills related to advancing science, technology and math (STEM) education; ensuring resources for schools to offer physical education; improving Indian education; and boosting graduation rates for all students.

Udall's SONG Act is endorsed by numerous children's well-being groups in New Mexico, including: CHI St. Joseph's Children, the New Mexico Conference of Catholic Bishops, RESULTS-Santa Fe, Families USA, YDI-Elev8, the N.M. Public Health Association, United Way-Santa Fe County, N.M. Early Childhood Development, CLN Kids, Native American Professional Parent Resources, The Food Depot, La Familia Medical Center, N.M. Voices for Children, ENLACE Statewide Collaborative, Southwest Women's Law Center, HELP-New Mexico, Parents Reaching Out, Community Action Agency of Southern New Mexico, FamilyCook, N.M. GRADS, and the LANL Foundation.

"CHI St. Joseph's Children, with over a hundred year history in New Mexico and operator of the largest home visiting program in the state, urges passage of this legislation to create a brighter future for our children."

- Allen Sánchez, President/CEO of CHI St. Joseph's Children

"Our nation can only be strong when our families are strong. We build strong families the same way we build strong communities - by ensuring that the necessary resources are at hand and that no barriers to opportunity exist for anyone. ... We firmly believe that poverty can be eliminated, but not without a comprehensive plan."

- Veronica C. Garcia, Executive Director of New Mexico Voices for Children

"We strongly endorse and support the SONG Act, a bill that pulls together, aligns and proposes expansion of many federal programs that, together, address the needs of children and their families who are struggling with poverty."

- Kathryn C. ("Kitty") Sherlock and Lydia Pendley, Co-Leaders of RESULTS-Santa Fe

"We have diligently served our committed students and families over the past 15 years and are very familiar with the many needs in our diverse communities, specifically the importance of advancing access and success in education. The purpose of the SONG Act legislation is to improve childhood outcomes in well-being, to reduce childhood poverty by strengthening children and families, to improve graduation rates, to reduce school dropout rates, and to fully fund effective laws that benefit child health and wellness. We see these goals benefiting our beautiful state by furthering family and community partnerships and by helping our children to succeed overall."

- Dr. Lawrence Roybal, Executive Director, ENLACE Statewide Collaborative

A full overview of the SONG Act can be found HERE and below:

Saving Our Next Generation (SONG) Act

Purpose of legislation: To improve childhood outcomes in well-being and reduce childhood poverty by strengthening children and families and fully funding effective laws that benefit child well-being.

Leadership - The bill calls for several federal and national level efforts to stay focused on improving child well-being, such as a President's Commission on Children (with business, public, private, nonprofit, and advocate groups charged with identifying best practices, opportunities for federal coordination of child programs and funding streams, and evaluation of wages of those who work with children), a 2016 Surgeon General Report on Improving the Health of Children, a Decennial White House Conference on Children, and a federal budget report to assess the impact of the federal budget on child well-being. The bill also calls for Governors Working Groups on Children grants that provide innovative, independent, bipartisan, and sustainable leadership at the state level for improving the health status of children.

Poverty - The bill strengthens the social capital in communities by engaging academic and business leaders in mentoring vulnerable families; full implementation of the Family and Medical Leave Act to allow bonding with newborns and adopted children; establishing a minimum wage above poverty level; and permanent extension and modifications to the child tax credit and the earned income tax credit.

Health - The bill strengthens medical and family leave; the Children's Health Insurance Program; expands the Community Health Workers programs; increases access to dental, nursing and behavioral health services in schools and underserved areas; streamlines enrollment into health and nutrition programs for eligible children and families; and expands Chafee Medicaid to age 26 for youth who have aged out of foster care. It also allows Medicaid coverage for behavioral health assessment and treatment for juveniles during intake and before adjudication in the criminal justice system. And it reauthorizes mental health courts and drug courts.

Education - The bill calls for demonstration grants to states to expand school calendars to enhance learning, to school districts to support pregnant and parenting students to graduate from high school, and to encourage business mentoring. It improves college affordability by strengthening existing student loan programs.