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AFLEP in New Mexico

Rural NM catching up to high-speed internet with federal infrastructure grants

Rural NM catching up to high-speed internet with federal infrastructure grants

By Ryan Boetel for Albuquerque Journal | June 25, 2023


Rural NM has some of the worst access to high-speed internet. Here’s what the federal government is doing to address the disconnect.


Photo above: Horacio Lizama, left, from Medanales, and Juan Andres Maestas, from Abiquiú, work on one of several computers provided for people at the El Rito Library on Thursday. Eddie Moore / Journal

EL RITO — At the El Rito Library, VHS cassettes of “Saving Private Ryan” and “Gone with the Wind” are for rent. Many locals can’t get high-speed internet access, so streaming isn’t an option.

Several people on Thursday afternoon were using the library for its internet. It’s one of the only public places with reliable service in the region.

Alison Brislin, a librarian, said a big part of her job has become guiding people through basic internet skills, such as using portals or paying bills, which are becoming more and more common parts of life.

“You’re super-disconnected. We need the internet for everything now,” Brislin said. “Before, it was a luxury to have the internet. Now it’s becoming more of a necessity.”

From the Bootheel in the southwest corner of the state to Abiquiú in the north, there are parts of New Mexico with some of the worst access to high-speed internet in the country.

But now, more than a hundred million dollars is pouring into the state from the federal government for large-scale broadband projects already underway. Government officials say the projects will address sharp divides in the state — both between urban and rural residents and across racial lines, in terms of who can access high-speed internet.

Luis Reyes, the CEO of Kit Carson Electric Co-op, which has been tapped for more than $20 million in grants and loans to build a fiber network throughout northern New Mexico, said the projects will be transformative for New Mexico.

“It’s very archaic,” Reyes said of the quality of the internet in parts of the state. “What’s happening is we’re leaving a lot of the kids behind because they don’t have the same tools and opportunities as (students) in the metro areas have.”

Kit Carson Electric, which has been offering internet services in northern New Mexico since 1999, recently received a $23.6 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to build a fiber cable network to bring high-speed internet to about 2,693 people, 42 businesses, 34 farms and eight educational facilities in Rio Arriba County. He said many of the customers live in the Abiquiú and El Rito areas. The company is also required to put up an additional $5 million as a loan for the project, Reyes said.

The grant was one of six recently announced, worth a total of about $123 million, that will fund a series of broadband infrastructure projects across the most rural areas of the state. The grants were awarded from September 2022 to March 2023, according to USDA documents.

Reyes said he’s hoping that customers in the El Rito and Abiquiú areas could start getting hooked up to the fiber network sometime in the fall.

Money for the projects was earmarked in an infrastructure bill President Joe Biden signed into law in 2021. The law is funding a wide variety of infrastructure projects across the country, including several in New Mexico.

Once completed, Reyes said internet and cellphone service will greatly improve in the Abiquiú and El Rito areas.

“It’s kind of like you’re riding a bike to get to some place and then we’re going to put you in a race car,” he said.

Broadband Now, an industry watchdog group, ranked New Mexico 45th in terms of access to broadband internet in 2023, according to the service’s website. Only West Virginia, Alaska, Mississippi, Arkansas, Vermont and Missouri ranked worse.

There were stark differences between rural communities and urban centers.

Nearly 99% of Los Alamos County and 98% of Bernalillo County residents had access to 100 megabits per-second quality service. Conversely, no one in Catron County has access to that level of service and just 1% of Luna County residents, 1.2% of Socorro County residents, and 7% of people in Hidalgo County have access to high-quality broadband, according to the group’s website.

The disparity is also reflected along racial lines: In New Mexico, 6% of Anglo residents lack internet access, compared with 12% of Hispanics or Latinos, while nearly a quarter of the state’s American Indian population doesn’t have broadband access, according to the website.

Read the full story at

Access to Capital in New Mexico is Tightening

Access to Capital in New Mexico is Tightening

by Angela Merkert, Executive Director, AFLEP

With the challenges in the financial system—banks closing, fintech gaining market space, interest rates rising—lending for small businesses is decreasing. One recent business article reported that the U.S. loan approval rate for small businesses by big banks dropped to 13.5%, according to the Biz2Credit Small Business Lending Index. They also reported that small business applications had only 18.7% approved by small (community) banks. The rate of credit union approvals was 19.8%. The rates of approvals have been decreasing for all banks, dropping .4% for each entity March to April. (Albuquerque Journal, May 2021, “Less Lending.”).

What does this mean for New Mexicans with dreams and plans who need capital to make them real?

Although the figures for New Mexico are not available, there is no reason to believe that these figures don’t apply to loan approval rates here—and may be even lower. Entrepreneurs then reach for higher interest loans via the internet or credit cards, borrow from family and friends, or their dreams are diminished or let go. Start-ups and business expansions become stalled or not even begun.

Small businesses employ more people in New Mexico than midsize and large businesses. These businesses deserve support, especially in our rural communities. Community wealth grows as businesses develop and thrive, increasing the tax revenue available to access funding of community projects for roads, clean water, libraries, medical centers, and public safety equipment. All are facets of local economic prosperity and provide a foundation for the health and well-being of people who live in the community and surrounding region.

Image: Cafe Rio Pizza in Ruidoso, NM. Photo by Fevin Patel.

We can do better, New Mexico. An increasing number of economists are offering alternative models to our economic system that are more strongly based on values and the inclusion of more people’s needs rather than the maximizing of profit for the few. We have extreme inequality because we have supported policies and regulations that allow it.

According to Rana Foroohar, author of Homecoming: The Path to Prosperity in a Post-Global World, between 2022 and 2034 there will be about 991 million farm and ranch acres turning over to new owners, 40% of the U.S. mainland. If the current trend continues, large agriculture corporations will be purchasing that land as investments along with other countries. China is a current major investor in agriculture now in support of food security for its population. During the pandemic, pork prices increased early when China required their pork processing investments to divert produce to China rather than selling through their prior outlets in the U.S.

New Mexico cultural history may reject that investment trend, which will mean that for farms to be sustainable, strong local and regional markets will be required, reducing food exports to other parts of the U.S., and imports to the state. That will require more infrastructure for food processing and distribution. Small steps are being made now.

Foroohar also addresses the emphasis that globalization makes on developing efficiencies rather than resilience. She advocates that if we are to cultivate more resilience in our economy, we need to place more focus and resources on local and regional community development rather than on globalization. As we learned during COVID, we need more resilience in our food system—from cultivation to processing to distribution. This shift of focus points toward the need for investment in small and midsize businesses.

What’s missing to advance these needs? Capital to expand those facilities. Keeping our revenue safe, local, and working for New Mexicans and their community prosperity is a major AFLEP goal. We must do more to support businesses that will sustain families and keep them in their respective communities. Join AFLEP and help to advance equitable access to capital for rural community development and enhanced local prosperity. Share this message with friends, volunteer to engage your community leaders and legislators, contribute toward advancing this initiative. YOU can help to make a difference in the well-being of our communities, our fellow New Mexicans.

Revolving fund bills show gaps in NM financial capacity

Revolving fund bills show gaps in NM financial capacity

by Angela Merkert, Executive Director, AFLEP

Whew! That 60 day session went by fast. Over 240 bills were passed of the more than 1000 filed. A number of those bills will support increased local economic prosperity. We are grateful for legislative support for them—water quality, acequias, universal breakfasts and lunches for our school kids, broadband expansion, some geothermal support, the Legacy Conservation Fund, and more.

We are disappointed that more of the climate adaptation legislation was not passed. New Mexico walks a fine line between embracing fossil fuel extraction revenues and dealing with the damage done to our environment, to the health of New Mexicans. We are running out of time to have only a reactive position to climate change; we need to be proactive to ensure that our rural communities and small businesses have opportunities to thrive, not only the larger companies of the state.

AFLEP is committed to persist in our advocacy for increased support of rural development, including improved infrastructure, and small business innovation and entrepreneurship in both urban and rural areas. We need additional income sources from expanded economic development support. Although some projections shared in the 2022 interim committees suggest that the revenues from extraction will fall in 7-8 years, there are also projections for those revenues to diminish in 4-5 years as more alternative energy sources ramp up. We don’t have a lot of time to address those upcoming revenue gaps.

Thank You!
The AFLEP team wants to thank each and every one of you who wrote emails, called legislators’ offices, and attended hearings on our priority bills during the session. Our voices and attention to legislation matters.

We are now being watchful of the Governor’s decisions as she moves through the passed legislation to add her signature—or not. What we do know is that, given the fire-hose of projected revenue to consider in the budget development, there were many requests for revolving funds of a year to 5 or 10 years’ duration. Not all made it through the sausage-making machine. However, sponsors and advocates behind the legislation had data that identified gaps in the state’s financial capacity to advance development in the areas of alternative energy, local economic development, environment, and more.

The state’s needs are significant, especially in preparation for the years ahead when we will be dealing with even more extremes in our weather that will affect our farming and agriculture practices and other impacts. We can be creative and consider how to expand the state’s lending capacity with a tool, like a state public bank, that will expand the investment of an initial $50 million to $450 million in lending power. That’s a significant investment in New Mexicans! We will be meeting with state officials, legislators, allies, and reaching out into more of our communities beginning in April to detail the missed opportunities of the newly passed budget and develop actions to address those possibilities.

There is increased wariness by some individuals about trust in banks, especially after the crisis of the Silicon Valley Bank. They did not meet regulatory requirements, their leadership did not address issues that had been identified and the regulators, for some reason, didn’t step up when they determined that SVB was not responding to the issues. That was not a typical situation. We’ll have more to share and explore in the days ahead about this blip in the financial system.

The team is not standing still. During the legislative session our financial plan for a state public bank was audited by a local CPA firm. The assumptions were tested and we now have broadened and deepened conservative financial projections for a successful bank. Stay tuned for more details about our plans—for a fair, just, equitable financial system that supports ALL New Mexicans! And join in our actions that will begin with interim committee hearings later this spring.

We appreciate your support and look forward to your engagement toward a vision of increased local economic prosperity for all New Mexican communities.

Life Link + Homewise Partnership Delivers More Than Financing

Life Link + Homewise Partnership Delivers More Than Financing

Partnership Delivers More Than Financing

The Life Link in Santa Fe rents and owns multiple buildings where it delivers a multitude of services. When management wanted to create synergy around some of those services by housing them under one roof, the nonprofit organization turned to another nonprofit organization: Homewise.

Homewise partnered with The Life Link through the process of financing the purchase of its property, and with the help of a Homewise commercial loan and additional grant funding from another source, The Life Link acquired a 2,600-square-foot property.

>This is how the partnership is benefiting Santa Fe

Homewise is a community development financial institution (CDFI) that has been helping people achieve their homeownership goals since 1986. In 2021, the nonprofit lender initiated a commercial mortgage loan program to provide affordable capital to small businesses and nonprofit organizations interested in owning the buildings they rent. Homewise offers commercial property loans of up to $1 million to eligible businesses in designated tracts.

>Learn more about Homewise Commercial RE Loans

NM Awarded Grant to Help Small Businesses Cultivate Global Marketplace

NM Awarded Grant to Help Small Businesses Cultivate Global Marketplace

New Mexico Economic Development Department (EDD) Cabinet Secretary Alicia J. Keyes announced Monday that the state has been awarded a $250,000 STEP grant from the U.S. Small Business Administration to help small businesses cultivate the global marketplace.

The State Trade Expansion Program (STEP) is an initiative that provides matching grants for states to assist eligible small businesses export their products. The program offers assistance with foreign trade show booth space, interpreters, export training programs, and the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Gold Key matchmaking services in major markets abroad.

Expanding global trade is a priority for Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham as a means to further diversify New Mexico’s economy. The $250,000 award is the largest the state has ever received under the STEP program.

“There has never been a better time to introduce your business to the international marketplace,” EDD Cabinet Secretary Keyes said. “We are pleased to be able to provide guidance and support to our New Mexico businesses who want to grow with the aid of global sales.”

“Thanks to the SBA and New Mexico Economic Development Department, STEP has become the most effective program we have to support new-to-export small businesses,” Celeste Nuñez said, Director of International Business Resources for the New Mexico Trade Alliance. “We can’t wait to utilize this new round of funding to usher in New Mexico’s next generation of exporters.”

For more information, read the press release at


Acequias face challenges, uncertain future

Acequias face challenges, uncertain future

Paula Garcia, executive director of the nonprofit New Mexico Acequia Association (NMAA), is optimistic that determination combined with state and federal resources can make the damaged ditches vital again. But she is haunted by the fear that fire and flood may have altered things forever.

“It is very jarring to go through a wildfire,” said Garcia, who, with her family, tends a small-scale cattle ranch and traditional vegetable gardens in Mora, which was at the heart of the 341,735-acre Calf Canyon/Hermits Peak Fire.

“My family has been farming and ranching in the same area for eight generations,” said Garcia, who gets water from an acequia. “We go back to the Mora Land Grant. But this is life changing. I have never felt so vulnerable as when I saw our landscape go up in flames. I am concerned that the watersheds have been so damaged by wildfires they will never be the same again.”

‘Very sobering’

The Calf Canyon/Hermits Peak Fire, which burned in the northern New Mexico counties of Mora, San Miguel and Taos, resulted in 45 damaged acequias. The Black Fire, which grew to 325,136 acres in the Black Range northeast of Silver City, impaired 24 acequias. And the Cerro Palado Fire, which encompassed 45,605 acres in the southern Jemez Mountains, crippled one acequia.

Most of the damage occurred when summer monsoon rains sent flood waters cascading unimpeded over burn scars, filling irrigation ditches with silt, ash and debris and, in some cases bludgeoning ditch headgates and diversion dams.

“Each acequia is different,” Garcia said. “There is one acequia that was removed from the landscape. The erosion was so bad that it looks like nothing was there. There are others where only 200 feet (of a ditch) is filled with sediment. It will cost in the tens of thousands just to do debris removal and in the hundreds of thousands for more severe damage. It is possible in the winter and early spring to remove debris and get ditches reopened. But structural repair could take two to three years.”

Perhaps worst of all is the very real possibility that the nightmare is only starting.

“Experts tell us this (monsoon flooding) could go on for five years or more,” Garcia said. “That’s very sobering. This time next year we may be faced with trying to reopen ditches again. They are so important. People still rely on them for their livelihood.”

‘No easy way’

Acequias are subdivisions of state government, governed by officers. Some acequias collect set dues or assessments from users each year and others only take in money from irrigators to pay for specific repairs.

The New Mexico Acequia Association’s membership consists of acequia users and some individual irrigators. The association is funded by private foundation grants, federal grants or contracts, state grants or contracts, membership dues and donations.

“As a nonprofit, we do education, workshops on water rights, technical assistance and policy advocacy,” Garcia said. “When it comes to the fire, we have been working with the acequias to navigate the different assistance programs, doing damage assessments and helping with paperwork.”

Tobias Lovato, who depends on irrigation to grow grass hay and alfalfa, stands near the headgate for Acequia de los Lovatos y Romeros in Mora County. The ditch, normally about 5 feet deep at this point, has been filled in with silt, ash and debris deposited during monsoon-season flood waters. (Eddie Moore/Journal)


Garcia said NMAA encourages acequias to apply for every form of disaster aid available, including Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Public Assistance and Individual Assistance funds, and to file notices of loss to get a portion of the $2.5 billion procurable through the Hermits Peak Fire Assistance Act.

Easier said than done, however. Garcia said FEMA is difficult to work with.

“The FEMA staff is very kind and compassionate,” she said. “They do this work because they believe in what they are doing. It is the structure of how the agency functions that is difficult. There are a lot of hoops to jump through and there is no easy way out. We are in the thick of doing what FEMA requires us to do.”

The first hurdle was just getting FEMA to recognize acequias as public entities entitled to Public Assistance money.

“There was some doubt about whether acequias were public subdivisions,” Garcia said. “They have to provide their bylaws. We have established eligibility for about 35 acequias in the Calf Canyon Fire area.”

But things don’t get much easier even when that is accomplished.

“FEMA requires (the applicant) to spend money up front for repairs and then FEMA provides reimbursement,” Garcia told members of the New Mexico Rural Economic Opportunities Task Force during a recent presentation at the State Capitol. “The acequias may have $1,000 in the bank. There is no way they are going to do this work up front and pay for it.”

Garcia said the state Department of Transportation is trying to help by supplying up-front funding.

“DOT is able to use money from the governor’s emergency executive order to help local governments, and now they are starting to help with acequias as well,” she said. “DOT is coordinating with FEMA to make sure they are FEMA compliant. I consider that a major breakthrough. Thinking outside the box to make things happen.”

Technical difficulties

Garcia said the day-to-day work in getting assistance programs to work for people is challenging because many of the applicants don’t have internet.

“They don’t have e-mail,” she said. “Even when they do have e-mail, they have a lot of questions. We (NMAA) are the people they call. We are on the phone with them. We run out to see them. We actually fill out a lot of FEMA applications for them.”

Cristino Griego, 77, who worked as an educator for more than 25 years, raises cattle and grass hay in Las Tusas in San Miguel County. He is secretary-treasurer of Las Tusas Community Ditch, which gets its water from the Sapello River.

Boulders washed downstream by monsoon rains roiling over wildfire burn scars wiped out a diversion dam for this acequia in Mora County. (Eddie Garcia/Journal)

“I’m fairly efficient on the computer, and I have internet at my house,” he said. “In working through the FEMA process, I found a lot of glitches. I found it difficult. Other people found it impossible. They don’t have computers. They don’t have Wi-Fi.

“When you are 70 years old and come from a rural-agricultural background, have done day labor and construction on the side, you are not interested (in computers). Except when your grandchildren may want to play video games.”

Garcia is also a member of the New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission, which has an acequia program and is the state agency that administers state funding for acequia projects such as construction.

But the ISC, like the NMAA, has not been involved before in disaster response at the level caused by this year’s wildfires and flooding. Garcia said neither the ISC nor NMAA is sufficiently staffed to deal adequately with such a catastrophe.

“ISC has been using state money to retain an engineering firm to do some damage assessment and cost estimates for rehabbing acequias, so that’s good,” she said. “But so far they have only assessed five or six acequias in the Black Fire area. They have not been to Mora or San Miguel counties.”

Garcia said she has repurposed two of NMAA’s 10 staff members to do disaster work and is using some foundation grant money to aid in disaster relief.

“We have hired two contractors who are out in the field on an almost-daily basis working with acequias,” she said. “We have other duties, other programs we are committed to, so basically we have four people doing disaster work. We are doing some fundraising and have asked the state Legislature to help us with resources.”

Read the entire article at

Study: NM would lose 1/5 of businesses without Hispanic entrepreneurs

Study: NM would lose 1/5 of businesses without Hispanic entrepreneurs

by Spencer Schacht | KOB

A new study ranks New Mexico as the most Hispanic-dependent economy in the U.S. It found the Land of Enchantment has the most Latino-owned businesses nationwide.

The study published by Creditos En USA found that in New Mexico one of every five small businesses or mom-and-pop shops are owned by Hispanic entrepreneurs. They have created 208,514 jobs in the state.

The study also found that Latina women are 4% more entrepreneurial than other demographics.

“My other business is accurate process serving & notary so I deliver legal documents and a mobile notary service,” said Julia Pluemer, a Hispanic business owner.

Pluemer says she is encouraged by this study not only for the future of her own businesses but for the future of her daughters.

Read the whole article and watch the video at

Base public bank discussion on facts

Base public bank discussion on facts

MY VIEW – Peter Smith 

Santa Fe New Mexican | August 13, 2022

Let’s have a fact-based discussion about a public bank for New Mexico.

What do we call it when a person who knows the facts of a specific situation fails to state them fairly and accurately, and tries instead to confuse and mislead people? That is what Jay Jenkins did in his op-ed piece against a public bank for New Mexico in The New Mexican last week (“Public bank won’t help what ails N.M.,” My View, Aug. 9).

I am writing to say that, if there is a case to be made against a public bank, do so honestly and in a straightforward manner, not with outright and purposeful misrepresentations.

  • Jenkins says the public bank will compete with community banks. Not true! The core of the public bank proposal is exactly the opposite. The bank will only support loans brought to them by credit unions and community banks. And, as he points out, the North Dakota public bank does exactly that.
  • Jenkins says the bank will not have FDIC deposit insurance. In fact, to be chartered in the state, the bank must meet the FDIC’s “gold standard” regulations and requirements. However, since the bank is working solely through partnerships with community banks and credit unions, it will not have depositors in the traditional sense. So, it won’t need FDIC deposit insurance coverage. The state will be the bank’s only depositor.
  • Jenkins says the bank would be susceptible to political pressure. But, ironically, given that the bank can only work in collaboration with existing banks, the only politics, if such existed, would be at the community level and with those institutions.
  • Jenkins says the bank might make risky loans due to inexperience. But the only loans the bank can consider would be those brought to it for shared support by the credit unions and the community banks.
  • Jenkins says a New Mexico public bank would not be viable financially. In fact, when Santa Fe did such a study, it was determined the city was too small financially to support the concept. But North Dakota is significantly smaller than New Mexico and is doing very well. And several other places are also planning a public bank.

A public bank would strengthen community banks’ and credit unions’ ability to serve their communities by collaborating with them on loans that are different, loans that support more entrepreneurial business plans, loans that, without the public bank’s support, might be considered high-risk.

In closing, let me say that, yes, I serve on the Alliance for Local Economic Prosperity board, the organizational advocate promoting the public bank. But this letter is from me as an individual, asking for an honest and accurate debate as the concept moves forward.

Peter Smith lives in Santa Fe and is a supporter of the proposed public bank.

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It's Our Money with Ellen Brown

Episode: Everyone deserves a public bank

Join those who’ve endorsed a Public Bank for New Mexico

Paul Gibson endorses Public Banking NM

“I had the good fortune to work on this initiative before Bernie kidnapped all my time. This is one of those no-brainer initiatives that only the 1% could oppose. It has the potential to save the state millions of dollars by vastly reducing the cost of its bonds to improve infrastructure funding. in a public bank, our state funds can be used to build our local economy and our local infrastructure.”
– Paul Gibson
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