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Heinrich: We Need To Break The Cycle Of Poverty, Level The Playing Field For Hard-Working N.M. Families

In address to state legislature, Heinrich calls for investing in education and job training and taking a two-generation approach to breaking the cycle of poverty.

SANTA FE, N.M. - Today, U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) addressed a joint session of the New Mexico Legislature where he discussed leveling the playing field for hard-working New Mexico families and diversifying the state's economy. In his remarks, Senator Heinrich focused on the need to work together in building a two-generation approach to break the cycle of poverty, and invest in early childhood education and job training.

Below are Senator Heinrich's remarks as prepared for delivery:

Distinguished members of the New Mexico Senate, the House of Representatives, Governor Martinez, Lieutenant Governor Sanchez, President Pro-Tem Papen, Speaker Tripp, tribal leaders, and honored guests: it is an honor to join you today.

I'd like to start by thanking you for your commitment to public service and to our great state. All of you volunteer your time each year, away from your families and your jobs and businesses, to help improve the lives of all New Mexicans.

It is a wonderful tradition to be given the opportunity to come to the Roundhouse and speak with you.

This is a time of significant challenges for our state, which makes our jobs as legislators and public servants even more important.

New Mexico is at a crossroads.

We've heard that again and again. But I believe our challenge is even more basic than that. We need to fundamentally change the trajectory of our state.

Yes, we have seen some positive economic signs. Nationally, the Labor Department reported on Friday that employers expanded their payrolls in February, adding 295,000 workers, and that unemployment fell to 5.5 percent-the lowest it's been since 2008.

While we've seen signs of economic recovery nationally, I don't have to tell you that the picture in New Mexico remains stark.

New Mexico's unemployment rate is higher than the United States overall. 

Our state is still experiencing net job losses compared to pre-recession levels. 

And given slow wage growth, the reality is that many hard-working families feel as if the economic recovery has left them behind.

One in five New Mexicans lives in poverty.

And when parents struggle, children do too.

New Mexico ranks 48th in the nation for child poverty.

The child poverty rate increased from 28 percent in 2012 to 30 percent in 2013.

3 out of 4 of children in New Mexico are enrolled in either Medicaid or CHIP.

62 percent of three and four year olds do not attend preschool in our state.

But it's not just about the dismal numbers or the lowest rankings or the shameful yearly studies.

This is about our children. Our future.

Fifty years ago, Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered a speech at the Temple Israel of Hollywood in Los Angeles. It was shortly after he received the Nobel Peace Prize.

Dr. King spoke of those struggling the most among us. He said:

"There are some 40 -- between 40 and 50 -- million of our brothers and sisters in this country who are poverty-stricken. There they find themselves perishing on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. Certainly, if we are to be a great nation, we must solve this problem."

He went on to say that we all have a responsibility to the poverty-stricken because our destinies are tied together.

He said, "Somehow in the final analysis, as long as there is poverty in the world, nobody can be totally rich. We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. And what affects one directly affects all indirectly."

America is the richest nation on Earth. Yet too many families in New Mexico can't escape poverty.

Too many families are forced to make decisions that hurt the progress and strength of our state. Like taking on an extra shift instead of pursuing their education.

I grew up on a small farm and ranch operation. In addition to tending our cattle, both of my parents worked. My dad was a utility lineman. And my mother worked in a factory inspecting wheels on the assembly line. Like many Americans, I learned the dignity of hard work long before I ever held a job.

I learned at home.

And I believe that everyone willing to work hard deserves a fair shot at success in this country. After all, that is at the heart of the American dream.

That is why my number one priority is to level the playing field for hard-working New Mexico families.

We need to break the cycle of poverty and invest in early childhood education and workforce training.

We need to look for opportunities to expand the private sector and we must give more than lip service to diversifying our economy. 

These are the issues that drive me every day in the U.S. Senate.

And we know that it's going to take a lot more than one bill or initiative, and it is not going to happen overnight.

All signs are that federal spending will remain tightly constrained in the coming years, so solutions to what ails our economy will have to be generated through partnership and sacrifice here at home.

We will all have to work together to develop a cohesive and collaborative vision of what we want our state to be.

But the federal government can help.

Without programs like Medicaid, Medicare, Head Start, the school lunch program, and federally guaranteed student loans, the Great Recession would have left millions in a canyon of poverty that would have taken decades to reverse. 

Lyndon Johnson declared a war on poverty 50 years ago. 

Before that, FDR fought for Social Security, and a minimum wage. 

Even before that, Teddy Roosevelt fought for an eight-hour workday.

But the 21st century brings us new challenges.

We need to take a holistic approach to addressing the needs of children along with their parents. Leaving either the child or the parent behind decreases a family's chance at success. 

Imagine if we were able to bring all these resources together, working as one to support the family.

By removing the silos, we create a two-generation approach to breaking the cycle of poverty. 

Facilitating targeted interventions to improve two-generation outcomes in education, health care, job training, childcare, and a range of other vital government services, we can simultaneously improve community outcomes while saving taxpayer dollars.

When we invest in children and their parents concurrently, we harness the family's full potential and put the whole family on a path to permanent economic security and independence.

That is why in the coming weeks I will be introducing a bill to do just that. 

But there are also steps we can take right now to increase opportunities for all New Mexicans.

I want to commend the State legislature for looking for ways to improve public education and child wellbeing.

I believe the time has come to invest a sustainable percentage of New Mexico's Land Grant Permanent Fund in early childhood education.

I know that this proposal does not come without controversy. I recognize that many people view this fund as our rainy day fund.

But I have news folks: "It's raining."

And it is time to think out of the box about how we lay the groundwork for our state for decades to come.

I don't think there's any denying that expanding access to high-quality early childhood education would generate a significant return on investment for our state, and I think the time is now to take that investment seriously and look at how we can give a head start  to New Mexico's next generation.

Numerous credible studies have shown that each dollar invested in early childhood services has a significant rate of return through a reduced need for spending on other services, such as remedial education, grade repetition, and special education, as well as increased productivity and earnings for these children as adults.

And when people are earning more, they spend more. When businesses have more customers, they hire more workers.

Ensuring our students are receiving a world-class, affordable education at every age, and no matter where they come from, isn't just about improving the wellbeing of our children. I believe it's also the surest way to rescue our struggling economy.

We need to make New Mexico a place where businesses want to invest, and parents want to raise their kids, and the best and brightest stick around after graduating.

After all, our state has so much promise...

With our growing film industry, unmatched arts and culture, and some of the most scenic landscapes and rich traditions. Combined with our top-notch universities and community colleges, national laboratories, and defense installations.

In New Mexico, we have built our economy around some of the greatest scientific innovations of the modern era.

Through the collaboration of its major defense and research installations, our state became the birthplace of technologies that have changed the entire world.

Whether it's leading in commercial space technology or tackling climate change, it's important that we continue to encourage the kind of innovation New Mexico is renowned for.

Our state is also an epicenter of America's energy economy. As a member of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, I'm supporting several proposals to help expand both traditional and renewable domestic energy production in our state.

Building new transmission and modernizing our electrical grid is also central to becoming a state where potential and reality actually meet.   

Until we are committed to truly modern energy infrastructure, we will lose opportunities to our neighbors in Texas and Arizona. But with real commitment and investment, we'll grow those construction and generation jobs right here.

But if we truly want to create a climate in New Mexico that attracts businesses, innovators, investors, and entrepreneurs, we need to better equip our students and our workforce to compete for the jobs of the future -- especially in the areas of science, technology, engineering, and math -- or STEM.

And we must broaden participation in STEM to more women and girls, and Hispanic and tribal youth.

I've been looking at ways to provide additional resources for core curriculum and afterschool STEM education programing while strengthening state, local, and community partnerships in these fields.

Investing in STEM focused afterschool programs can improve student perceptions about the STEM fields and careers, increase STEM proficiencies, and trigger a higher likelihood of a student pursuing a STEM career.

Additionally, focusing on job training and workforce development will have significant and lasting impacts on our economy and ensure that everyone has the opportunity to gain the skills they need to compete for quality, living wage jobs.  Jobs that have dignity and a future.    

But let's remember we aren't going to turn our economy around by passing laws that lower the wages of hard-working New Mexicans.

We aren't going to get there by selling off the outdoor legacy that draws so many to New Mexico in the first place.

And we aren't going to get there by making it harder for New Mexicans to exercise their constitutional right to vote.

All of us know that New Mexicans are tough. We are resourceful. We want to work and we want to work hard.

So despite the challenges we face, and they are many, I know we will continue to not only persevere, but to surprise and even change the world.

It won't be easy, but nothing of value comes easy.

And you and I know that all the potential we could ever ask for sits in homes and Churches and classrooms across this fine state.

Together, let's make sure that all of our constituents have a fair shot at contributing to a brighter future for the Land of Enchantment.