U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.) promoted the pending Farm Bill, including full funding for the food stamp program, and blasted the Republican leadership in the House of Representatives in an interview Wednesday with the Quay County Sun.
He also said New Mexico should view its recent last-place finish in child well-being measures “with alarm.”
“It can’t be ignored,” he said of the report from Kids Count that placed New Mexico last among the 50 states in child well-being.
In addition, he said, the state should be far more transparent in its handling of its current behavioral health situation.
While he favors a fight against “fraud and abuse,” he said. “Ensuring patient care should be at the top of the list.”
After an audit commissioned by the state’s Human Services Department allegedly found evidence of fraud and abuse in Medicaid billing by 15 behavioral health providers in the state, HSD cut off funding for these providers and transferred their caseloads to five Arizona behavioral health organizations.
Luján has joined the rest of New Mexico’s congressional delegation in calling for a public forum in New Mexico to give constituents an opportunity to talk about the impact of this issue on behavioral health care.
In support of the Farm Bill, which has stalled in the House after passing the Senate, Luján said it will offer important support to farmers and ranchers in the western states hit by the current drought, of which New Mexico has been the hardest hit. In the House, he said, there has been no vote, since House Republicans are trying to pass a version that “zeroes out” the food-stamp provision.
Luján also cited the current sequester, the federal funding cuts that were designed to be a deterrent against failure to reach a budget agreement in Congress, as standing in the way of support to drought-plagued farmers and ranchers.
He added, “The (Rep.) Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) budget would be worse than the sequester.”
In addition, he said, shifts in weather that may have led to the drought should be studied.
Preserving government programs and assistance through the Farm Bill, he said, will help preserve the domestic beef industry, which has been reeling from the drought, and support “hard working farmers and ranchers” in dealing with the drought and other issues.
When Congress resumes on Sept. 9, it faces a deadline of Oct. 1 to pass key bills that will keep the government in operation.
“Some of my GOP colleagues say if they don’t get their way, they advocate shutting down the government,” Luján said, and called for constituents to “be vocal” about their opposition to a government shutdown.
Luján said he is also supporting efforts to bring new industries to New Mexico. He said he continues to work with city, county and regional economic development coalitions about new opportunities. One economic development initiative that has caught his interest would enhance rail service in the state.
He said he has also had discussions that may lead to a manufacturer of gear components for wind turbines to locate a plant in Tucumcari. This location, he said, would allow the manufacturer to take advantage of training opportunities at the North American Wind Training and Research Center on the Mesalands Community College campus.
Luján also talked about the future of renewable energy, which, he pointed out, has helped many ranchers “stay in the food production business,” because of additional revenues from rental of space for wind turbines.
One of the key issues involved in the future of renewable energy in the state is the availability of transmission lines that would carry this power to markets where the power is needed.
Luján said he joins U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) in praising progress toward approval of the Sun Zia power line that is planned to carry large amounts of power, much of it from wind energy farms, from the Corona area to a point near Tucson, Ariz. In addition, he said, he sees the Tres Amigas project, which will distribute power among all of the nation’s power grids from a location north of Clovis, will be another key to accelerating development of renewable energy.
Congressional Republicans, however, have taken a dim view of continuing the investment tax credits that have made renewable energy attractive to developers, Luján said.
Linking the Farm Bill and funding cut issues with child well-being, he said, cuts to the food stamp program and education spending would have devastating effects on child well-being nationwide, and called on Congressional representatives “from all the states to help reverse this trend.”