New Mexico Legal Aid is a non-profit law firm that has provided free legal assistance to New Mexicans living in poverty for over 50 years. Inside our offices, the reception call center is fully loaded as soon as we open our doors.
It is very common for potential customers to start calling long before the opening, hoping to be the first when we start in the morning. Each month, over 1,000 New Mexicans living on the poverty line contact our lawyers and staff for help. In many cases, we are able to quickly resolve their issues within hours, but too often we have clients who are dealing with multiple issues at once such as evictions, unemployment, domestic violence and issues. income security.
These people are assigned to one of our advocates, who works in four specialized divisions: family, consumption, housing and economic security. They are stretched and process over 5,500 cases per year. But the high volume of cases is not as frustrating as when they are forced to turn down a viable case simply because we lack resources. For more than 100 New Mexicans per month, this is their reality.
Currently, nearly 400,000 New Mexicans live in poverty and qualify for our services, and we are already seeing that the demand continues to increase. In order to help more people, we need a stronger commitment from the legislature to increase funding for the Civil Legal Services Commission, which supports nonprofit civil legal providers in New Mexico.
We need to increase our staff and we need to be able to offer a competitive salary to a limited pool of available legal talent. A recent study by New Mexico Voices for Children looked specifically at New Mexico families and their income security. In its study, Voices for Children reported that 34 percent of children in New Mexico were food insecure in 2020, up from 24 percent in 2018. And nearly 30 percent of adults in households with children had little or no confidence in their ability to pay. their next rent or mortgage payment on time.
This study helps to put into perspective some of the reasons for the growing demand for help from our association.
Fortunately, we work alongside several other organizations that are equally focused and dedicated to the mission of helping people living in poverty by helping them with their legal issues. Each year, approximately 15,000 New Mexicans benefit from direct legal services offered by Legal Aid New Mexico, and thousands more benefit from our indirect services. When we are successful in helping a client, we keep a family at home, we improve the educational outcomes of their children, and we improve the health outcomes for the family.
We help these families to put down roots in the community, which in turn helps them to earn more income and ultimately to take root more deeply in our community.
Lewis G. Creekmore is Executive Director of New Mexico Legal Aid, headquartered in Albuquerque.