ALBUQUERQUE, N.M -- As difficult as it can be supporting two kids as a single mother, Melissa Martinez says her children are her motivation in life.
“I'm glad that they have each other," Martinez said. "They're a handful.”
Working a minimum-wage job, she says it can often be a struggle to put sufficient food on the table.
“They love their juice, they love their milk, and at one point there was a time when they were limited to resource of milk and formula when he was little, that was scary,” Martinez said.
Martinez isn’t alone. Research analyst Derek Lin with New Mexico Voices for Children says food insecurity was already a big issue in the state of New Mexico and across the county. The pandemic made it worse.
“In New Mexico, before the pandemic, 1 in 4 children suffered from child food insecurity after the pandemic started," Lin said. "That rate went up to 1 in 3.”
In recent months, Martinez says life has been made a little easier thanks to child tax credit payments that were expanded under the American Rescue Plan.
According to U.S. Census data, about 35 million eligible families received the first monthly payment of up to $300 for each child ages 5 and under and up to $250 for each child ages 6 to 17.
“What the administration and Congress did in recent legislation was make available those payments in monthly installments to low-income families, up to $300 per month, and those payments started in July, and we've already seen a very significant impact on food insecurity," said Geoffrey Plague, managing director of tax public policy and government relations with Feeding America.
Plague says the percentage of families indicating inadequate access to food dropped by 24%. Lin says more money in the pockets of families facing poverty can help end the cycle.
“When children aren't able to access enough high-quality food, they're not able to perform well in school," Lin said. "They're not able to do extracurricular activities. There are correlations between food insecurity and academic, behavioral and emotional issues.”
He says if they can’t do well in school, then it's difficult to go on to higher education and a life of better resources. Martinez says she hopes her kids can break that cycle.
“How do we offer them the best when some of us are so limited," Martinez said. "The workforce is hard because we're, we're striving to make the best of those minimum wage jobs, but we can't afford to make ends meet when we have to pay for back to school items. I don’t want them to remember that I struggled. I don’t want them to remember that it was hard for me. I want them to remember that they had really good things."
Martinez says the extra help is needed to be financially stable in a single-income household and she hopes the child tax credit payments will continue.
The current payments will continue monthly through December, but Feeding America is pushing for those payments to become permanent.
“The child tax credit has, for the history of it, for the entirety of its existence, proven to be one of the most effective anti-poverty provisions that we have at the federal level," Plague said.
For now, Martinez is taking it one day at a time. She says she’s thankful the tax credit has helped her give her children adequate food and clothing.
“We bought him new shoes, new sketchers, they even light up,” Martinez said.