New Mexico's school children lost out during lockdown

In this week's Intelligencer, New Mexico students are getting short changed, a judge blocks Biden's vaccine mandate, the Biden administration's mixed signals on energy, a Mexican crypto startup is trying to make cash remittances cheaper, and New Mexico's economic strains persist.

The Intelligencer is a weekly newsletter that gives you a quick overview of La Politica across New Mexico and the U.S., covering topics such as policy, current events, the political landscape, and tech.

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Dax Contreras
Executive Director, Hispanos Unidos

1. Data shows New Mexico students robbed of learning time

Details: As parents have reported different ways children are being harmed by the pandemic-related school closures (including social and emotion issues) a recent Legislative Finance Committee report says the closures have cost students “four months to more than a year of learning.” Younger and at-risk students suffer the worst.

Why it matters: The Northwest Evaluation Association says the average student performed 3-6% worse in reading and 8-12% worse in math, compared pre-pandemic performance.

The big picture: What makes it even more difficult to measure the impact of the closures, last year there was no standardized testing. And this year just 10% of eligible students participated in optional state testing.

In the recent Virginia governor's race Glenn Youngkin successfully tapped into parents’ pandemic-era frustrations, a strategy likely to be emulated across the country. Clearly, education will be a major issue for voters as the midterm election cycle ramps up.

2. Judge blocks Biden’s vaccine mandate for health workers


Details: This week a federal judge blocked the Biden administration from trying to enforce a nationwide coronavirus vaccine mandate for health care workers at federally funded facilities. This happened just one day after another federal judge stopped Biden’s ban in 10 states. In New Mexico, health care workers have protested publicly against Governor Lujan Grisham’s mandates.

Why it matters: In his ruling, Judge Terry Doughty highlighted the importance of the rule of law, "During a pandemic such as this one, it is even more important to safeguard the separation of powers set forth in our Constitution to avoid erosion of our liberties.”

The big picture: Although the judges’ holds are temporary, it signals just how far the Biden administration, as well as Democrat governors across the country, are reaching into and violating the civil rights of Americans. What impact these rulings might have on Biden’s OSHA scheme is yet to be seen.

3. Environmentalist attack new report for not being radical enough


Details: Western Environmental Law Firm, Center for Western Priorities, and NRDC are among the critics who claim a new report by the U.S. Interior Department doesn’t go far enough in damaging the oil and gas industry. The report recommends raising royalty rates, charging more for rent on state land, and requiring higher levels of bonding. 

Why it matters: Raising the relatively lower royalty rates will only make it more expensive to operate in New Mexico, which discourages investment and can lead to job losses. Raising rental fees, which are currently $1.50 per acre per year for the first five years and $2 thereafter, would also impact producers.

The big picture: The New Mexico Oil and Gas Association released a statement in response, describing the policies as “little more than virtue signals,” and could push production to foreign countries, hurting those who “work every day to provide our country with the oil and natural gas needed for daily life.” The Biden administration's mixed signals on energy are counterproductive: trying to reduce gas prices by tapping into America’s strategic reserve while at the same time disincentivizing domestic oil production are contradictory energy policies that are hurting the pocketbook of New Mexican families and eroding American energy independence.

4. Mexican startup is cutting the cost of moving cash across the border with Bitcoin

Background: While there continues to be questions of what cryptocurrency can really be used for, one of the better examples is remittances — the cross-border cash transfers that have long been dominated by the likes of Western Union Co. and MoneyGram International Inc.

Details: Bitso, a Mexico City-based crypto trading platform, estimates it is helping money transfers of around 2.5% of the more than $40 billion in remittances flowing across the border from the U.S. to Mexico annually. Remittances are a huge source of income for Mexico, accounting for almost 4% of the country’s GDP .

Yes, but: Significant regulatory hurdles remain and regulations around crypto are essentially still being written. In Mexico, the central bank has repeatedly said "cryptocurrencies aren’t legal tender and that financial institutions can’t allow consumers to buy and sell goods using crypto, though companies are able to use the technology internally." Still, the remittances space seems ripe for disruption, and it is likely cryptocurrency will be used to reduce both the cost of money transfers and the time needed to send money across borders. 

5. Economic strain persists in New Mexico


Details: The “now hiring” signs are ubiquitous. Yet, it’s been two whole months since the lavish unemployment payments expired. KOB TV asked Ricky Serna, the embattled acting Secretary of Workforce Solutions, why aren't workers filling all these open positions? And how can New Mexicans afford to live without working?

What he said: Serna answered by not answering, “The question is whether they're actively looking for work and ready to go back to work…Many of them have childcare issues they're trying to overcome, many of them are taking care of loved ones who may be sick or ill." This, of course, cannot account for all of the unemployed.

What we're watching: There is a fundamental shift in employment that policymakers so far seem unable or unwilling to address, including the so-called "Great Resignation". It remains to be seen what long term impact these employment shifts will have on the global economy, but the shifts are being felt by businesses small and large.

For example, for the first time last month Amazon said that its primary constraint in keeping packages moving was the lack of available workers rather than warehousing space. Last week Dollar Tree, the last of the major truly dollar store chains, announced it will be ending the “Everything’s $1” brand after 35 years. The chain, which has almost fifty Dollar Tree locations in 26 cities or towns in New Mexico, will permanently raise prices by 25% on the majority of its products.