New Mexicans reeling under the pressure of rising costs for gasoline, groceries and housing will see a two-time infusion of cash this year to help pay the bills.
In a 12-hour special session of the Legislature, lawmakers Tuesday approved a financial relief measure expected to deliver payments of either $500 to individual adult taxpayers or $1,000 to households with joint income tax filers.
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham is expected to sign House Bill 2, which will appropriate nearly $700 million for the initiative over two fiscal years to send two rounds of checks to all adults 18 and over who filed state taxes, except those listed as dependents on a parent or guardian’s tax form.
The legislation also provides $20 million in aid for adults who have not filed income tax returns, including undocumented residents. Nonfilers would have to apply, providing identification and proof of residency, and would receive funds on a first come, first served basis.
The money is expected to reach about 1.4 million New Mexicans, said Sen. Bobby Gonzales, D-Taos, a sponsor of HB 2.
Rep. Christine Chandler, D-Los Alamos, another sponsor, said the legislation will “soften the blow” for many New Mexicans still digging out of troubles tied to the coronavirus pandemic as prices for goods rise across the state and nationwide.
The payments will be disbursed in June and August. That way, Chandler said, the economic effect on the state will be split between two budget years — 2022, which ends June 30, and 2023, which begins July 1.
Single taxpayers will receive two payments of $250 each, and couples who filed joint returns will get two payments of $500.
Taxpayers who filed their returns electronically will automatically receive their payments via direct deposit into their bank account. The state will mail checks to others.
The household relief payments are not taxable, Chandler said.
The House of Representatives voted 51-13 to approve HB 2 following a two-hour debate. Late Tuesday, the Senate followed with a vote of 36-1 in favor of the bill after only a half-hour of discussion.
Some House Republicans argued the section of the bill that provides funds for people who did not pay taxes would violate New Mexico’s anti-donation clause.
Rep. Javier Martinez, D-Albuquerque, said, however, an exception to the anti-donation clause allows the state to provide support to those who are sick and indigent. The provision of the bill allocating $20 million for nonfilers is aimed at low-income seniors who may not have earned enough money to file a tax return, he said.
Sen. Antoinette Sedillo Lopez, D-Albuquerque argued in the Senate those relief funds will help people who are “the most in need in this state.”
Lujan Grisham called Tuesday’s special session in part to approve aid for struggling New Mexicans at a time when the state is flush with cash.
Over the past week or so, leading Democrats from the House and Senate gathered to develop a plan to use part of the state’s budget surplus, estimated at more than $2 billion, to ease residents’ financial burdens — especially gas prices, which have surpassed $4 per gallon.
According to AAA, the average price of gas nationwide Tuesday was $4.176 per gallon. In New Mexico, the average price was slightly lower, at $4.105.
In addition to the household relief approved Tuesday, New Mexicans who earned less than $75,000 in 2021 will receive a tax rebate of $250 as part of a broad tax package Lujan Grisham signed into law earlier this year.
The House and Senate also approved a $4.1 million measure known as a “feed bill” to fund the special session. The money will cover legislative staff salaries and provide millions of dollars in building and vehicle improvements for the state Capitol.