New Mexico families will not lose access to SNAP   

Farm Bill fails to pass

ALBUQUERQUE— Lawmakers rejected the 2018 Farm Bill today. The bill would have increased food insecurity by significantly cutting the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps, by more than $20 billion over ten years. The cuts would have made it difficult for millions of Americans to access enough groceries and healthy food and would have had a particularly harmful impact on New Mexico, where one in four people rely on SNAP to eat, including one in three of the state’s children.

“We are relieved that the House voted to protect access to food for hundreds of thousands of New Mexicans, including children, low-wage workers, older adults, and people with disabilities,” said William Townley, an attorney with the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty. “SNAP is New Mexico’s first defense against hunger and creates jobs in our agricultural and food industries. We hope Congress will move forward with legislation that bolsters our food assistance programs and ensures that no one in our communities goes hungry.”

Rep. Steve Pearce, who represents southern New Mexico’s District 2, voted in favor of the bill. SNAP has been vital in helping struggling southern New Mexicans afford basic nutrition. At least 162,393 New Mexicans in Pearce’s district participate in SNAP. Most of these families include children and nearly a third include senior citizens. Over half of the SNAP participants in District 2 are in working families.

41 organizations, including the New Mexico Pediatric Society, sent a letter this week to Pearce and Representatives Ben Ray Lujan and Michelle Lujan Grisham urging them to vote against the legislation. The letter can be found here: http://nmpovertylaw.org/farm-bill-snap-sign-on-letter-2018-05-15/

The signatories include:

New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty
El CENTRO de Igualdad y Derechos
Equality New Mexico
Interfaith Worker Justice – New Mexico
National Education Association- New Mexico
Ojo Sarco Community Center
Rio Grande Food Project
RISE Stronger New Mexico
La Semilla Food Center
Santa Maria de la Vid Abbey
Food Bank of Eastern New Mexico
Interfaith Hunger Coalition
The Community Pantry
New Mexico Pediatric Society
National Center for Frontier Communities
New Mexico Asian Family Center
Senior Citizens Law Office
Freeman House
Prosperity Works
Lutheran Advocacy Ministry-New Mexico
New Mexico Voices for Children
National Union of Hospital and Healthcare Employees- District 1199NM
New Mexico Coalition to End Homelessness
Mesilla Valley Community of Hope
Casa Milagro
Enlace Comunitario
Southwest Women’s Law Center
New Mexico Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics
Crossroads for Women
Roadrunner Food Bank of New Mexico
New Mexico Children Advocacy Networks
Encuentro
OLÉ Education Fund
Pegasus Legal Services for Children
Strong Families NM of Forward Together
Transgender Resource Center of New Mexico
National Center for Frontier Communities
Southwest Center for Health Innovation
Center for Civic Policy
NM CAFé (Comunidades en Acción y de Fe)
New Mexico Community Health Worker Association

For more information on the 2018 Farm Bill and how the SNAP cuts would have impacted New Mexico, go to: http://nmpovertylaw.org/2018/04/proposed-cuts-to-snap-in-house-farm-bill-would-take-food-off-the-table-for-new-mexico-families/

For more information on the 2018 Farm Bill and how the SNAP cuts would have impacted southern New Mexico, go to:  http://nmpovertylaw.org/2018/05/farm-bill-proposal-would-hurt-southern-new-mexico-economy-and-leave-families-hungry/

For more information on SNAP in New Mexico, go to: http://nmpovertylaw.org/proposed-budget-will-increase-hunger-and-inequality-in-nm-february-2018/

FID must fix loopholes in regulations to protect New Mexicans from predatory loans

GALLUP— The New Mexico Financial Institutions Division must close loopholes in storefront loan renewals and ensure greater transparency in the small loan industry, said the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty at a hearing in Gallup today. The FID held the hearing to gather public comment on its proposed HB 347 regulations. The law, passed during the 2017 New Mexico legislative session, imposes a 175 percent APR interest rate cap on small loans. Previous to its passage, most small loans were unregulated and interest rates were even higher.

Gallup, which is almost 50 percent Native American, has the highest concentration of storefront lenders in New Mexico with nearly 50 licensed lenders for a population of less than 23,000. Storefront lenders have long aggressively targeted low-income families and Native communities in the state, pushing loans with high-interest rates or arbitrary fees with little regard for an individual’s ability to repay.

“The Navajo Nation Human Rights Commission office receives a variety of consumer complaints about small loans that Navajo citizens enter,” said Leonard Gorman, executive director of the Navajo Nation Human Rights Commission. “Often times the Navajo consumer is an elder who has been misinformed or not informed of the conditions involving their loans.”

HB 347, in addition to the APR cap, strictly limits the fees that lenders are permitted to charge borrowers, eliminates interest-only payments on the majority of storefront loans, and stipulates that all such loans, except refund anticipation loans, have an initial maturity of 120 days.

Loan renewals, however, are not addressed by the FID’s proposed regulations. This creates a major loophole that leaves consumers vulnerable to interest rates and fees that are now illegal under the law for new loans. The Center urges the FID to close this loophole by clarifying that renewals are subject to the law’s fee limit, interest rate cap, and payment schedule requirements for new loans.

“All New Mexicans deserve access to fair and transparent loans under reasonable terms, including low-income families. But we have a lot of work to do to create a more inclusive economy in our state,” said Christopher Sanchez, supervising attorney at the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty. “Predatory lending has hurt New Mexican families and our economy in concrete ways, draining millions of dollars from the pockets of those who can least afford it. The FID can meaningfully address this damage to consumers in 2018 by first fixing the loopholes around loan renewals in its regulations.”

In New Mexico, storefront lenders frequently market and encourage borrowers to “renew,” “refinance,” or “rollover” their existing loans. High-cost small loans, with interest rates and fees that add up to several times the loan principal, are often nearly impossible for borrowers to pay off in the short terms that lenders offer.

For many people, the only solution at the end of the repayment period is to renew the loan and pay costly fees and extended high interest payments. Repeated renewals dramatically increase the cost of a small loan and make it extremely difficult for a borrower to calculate the long term financial consequences of the extension.

For example, a Zuni man with a full-time income was struggling to make payments on a $125 loan he took out from a Gallup company 10 years ago. When he was unable to pay back the principal, interest, and high fees by the date the loan was due, he renewed the loan rather than default. He has now renewed his loan over a dozen times and paid the company thousands of dollars in interest and renewal fees. He still cannot pay off the principal.

The FID’s proposed regulations also fail to address the lack of transparency in storefront lending practices. It is all too common in the industry for storefront lenders to mislead borrowers about the true cost of small loans through confusing contract terms, expensive and often useless add-on products, and by marketing loans that conceal long term costs. Because of this intentional subterfuge, it is often difficult or impossible for consumers to calculate the true costs of their loans.

“We should all be able to walk into a small loan store and see how much a loan will actually cost,” said Sanchez. “The market operates more effectively when all members of the public can understand the terms of the contracts they are entering. It’s important that the regulations ensure that loan terms are disclosed to borrowers in clear, straightforward terms.”

The Center also suggests the regulations include improved methods of data collection, greater protections for borrowers of refund anticipation loans, and expanded language accessibility.

“While a small loan business may have a Navajo employee interacting with the Navajo customers, our Navajo plaintiffs indicate that the Navajo employee does not speak the Navajo language well enough to communicate effectively with Navajo elders,” said Gorman. “The new administrative rules must include provisions for explaining the small loan entirely in the language preferred by the customers. Without a language assistance provision, Navajo consumers with difficulty understanding the English language will continue to be disenfranchised because they cannot fully understand the loan documents.”

The FID’s proposed regulations can be found here: www.rld.state.nm.us/financialinstitutions/

The Center’s comments on the proposed regulations can be found here: https://wp.me/a7pqlk-10H

The Center’s suggested changes to the proposed regulations can be found here: https://wp.me/a7pqlk-10I

Hearing on PED plan for K-3 testing and retention on Thursday in Santa Fe

SANTA FE—The New Mexico Public Education Department will hear public comment in Santa Fe this Thursday on its proposed one-sized-fits-all testing and retention policy. The New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty opposes the proposed rule because mandatory retention based on standardized tests hurts our children and violates state law.

The New Mexico Legislature has given families and school districts the authority to decide what is best for each child based on a child’s individual needs. The PED’s rule, however, would require our state’s youngest students – kindergartners through third graders – to pass a PED-designated test in reading to continue to the next grade. Parents would have the right to refuse the first effort to retain a child, but retention would be mandatory if the child did not pass the test the following year.

It is critical that all New Mexican children know how to read. However, years of research shows that holding kids back does nothing to improve their reading skills; instead, it increases their likelihood of dropping out of school. Rather than retaining five to eight-year-olds, the Center proposes the PED invest in evidenced-based programs that actually help children learn to read, like PreK, extended learning time, and professional development for teachers who teach reading.

The Center’s comments on the proposed regulations can be found here: http://nmpovertylaw.org/letter-final-comments-to-ped-proposed-regs-2018-05-15/

PED’s proposed regulations can be found here: https://webnew.ped.state.nm.us/bureaus/policy-innovation-measurement/rule-notification/

WHAT:    
PED public hearing on proposed new rule 6.19.9 NMAC, Early Literacy Remediation, Interventions, and Parental Engagement

WHEN:
Thursday, May 17, 2018 from 9:00 a.m.-12:00 p.m.

WHERE:  
New Mexico Public Education Department
Mabry Hall
300 Don Gaspar Ave., Santa Fe, NM 87501

WHO:
New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty attorneys
New Mexico Public Education Department staff
Education advocates

Hearing on proposed small loan regulations Tuesday in Gallup

GALLUP—The New Mexico Financial Institutions Division will hear public comment in Gallup on Tuesday regarding its proposed regulations on HB 347, which imposes a 175 percent APR interest rate cap on small loans. Before passage of this law, most small loans were unregulated and interest rates were even higher.

The law also ensures that borrowers have the right to clear information about loan total costs, allows borrowers to develop credit history via payments made on small-dollar loans, and stipulates that all such loans, except refund anticipation loans, have an initial maturity of 120 days and cannot be subject to a repayment plan smaller than four payments of loan principal and interest.

While the law and proposed regulations signal progress for fair loan terms, much more work remains to be done to ensure a more inclusive economy for all New Mexicans. Storefront lenders have long aggressively targeted low-income families and Native communities in the state, pushing loans with high-interest rates or arbitrary fees and no regard for an individual’s ability to repay. Gallup has the highest concentration of storefront lenders in the state with nearly 50 licensed lenders for a population of less than 23,000.

Among other recommendations at the Tuesday hearing, the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty will urge the FID to improve the regulations to close loopholes around loan renewals and increase transparency in how the division regulates small loan companies.

The FID’s proposed regulations can be found here: www.rld.state.nm.us/financialinstitutions/

The Center’s comments on the proposed regulations can be found here: https://wp.me/a7pqlk-10H

The Center’s suggested changes to the proposed regulations can be found here: https://wp.me/a7pqlk-10I

WHAT:    
FID Hearing on proposed HB 347 regulations

WHEN:
Tuesday, May 15, 2018 at 11:00 a.m.
 
WHERE:

Rehoboth McKinley Christian Health Care Services Building
Solarium Room, 3rd Floor
1901 Red Rock Drive
Gallup, New Mexico 8730

Groups seek immediate order to stop state’s illegal denial of non-REAL IDs to eligible New Mexicans

SANTA FE – Today, civil rights groups and advocates for people experiencing homelessness requested a temporary restraining order (TRO) in state district court against the New Mexico Taxation and Revenue Department and the Motor Vehicles Division to stop them from unlawfully denying Driver’s Authorization Cards (DAC’s) and non-REAL ID identification cards to eligible New Mexicans until a lawsuit filed earlier this year is resolved.

The lawsuit, Coss v. Monforte, filed in January of 2018, challenges MVD’s onerous and illegal regulations governing the issuance of non-REAL ID driver’s licenses and identification cards, including the illegal practices of requiring proof of identification number and not providing adequate due process to applicants who are denied.

“Every day New Mexicans go without a license or ID is another day where they are unable to cash their paycheck, pick up their prescriptions or lose a job opportunity,” said David Urias, lead attorney on the case. “While the court decides this important case, MVD should not be allowed to further endanger the livelihoods of countless working families by ignoring the law and overstepping their authority.”

The plaintiffs include senior citizens, immigrants, and homeless individuals who need a license or ID to go to work or school, obtain housing, medical care or other necessities, but were illegally denied an MVD credential without written notice detailing the reasons for the denial or information about how to appeal it.

Plaintiffs such as Charlie Maldonado Jr. lost a job offer because he could not present a valid ID that left him without a much-needed source of income that would have helped him exit homelessness. Similarly, Eulalia Robles lost two caregiving jobs because she could not present a valid driver’s license and was forced to forfeit her car. While other plaintiffs like former Santa Fe Mayor David Coss, Raúl Aaron Lara Martínez, Reyna Carmona and Elizabeth Lara find it much more difficult to take care of their families because they cannot legally drive.

“We continue to hear from people throughout New Mexico who are eligible under state law, but are still denied licenses or ID cards by MVD,” said Marcela Díaz, executive director of Somos Un Pueblo Unido (Somos), an organizational plaintiff in the case. “We also continue to receive reports from agencies that provide services to vulnerable New Mexicans like domestic violence survivors and people who are experiencing homelessness. These agencies are struggling to help their clients meet MVD’s illegal regulations. MVD’s regulations and practices are setting low-income New Mexicans back, and they must stop while our families get their day in court.”

“Time is of the essence for people who have been illegally denied a license or ID in New Mexico,” said Peter Simonson, Executive Director at the ACLU of New Mexico. “People are already losing work and falling behind on their bills. We cannot allow MVD to continue hurting hardworking New Mexicans while this case works its way through the courts.”

If granted, the injunction would require TRD, MVD, their employees, and their contractors, such as MVD Express, do the following:

  1. Halt implementing and enforcing illegal regulations that do not exist in the governing statutes for the DAC or the non-federally compliant ID card.
  2. Notify all New Mexicans previously denied a DAC or non-federally compliant ID card in writing to provide the reason for their denial and how to resolve their ineligibility, including those who underwent a background check.
  3. Record and preserve the name and mailing address of every New Mexican who applies for, but does not receive, a DAC or a non-federally compliant ID card moving forward.

“When a person who is working hard to exit homelessness is denied an identification card, they are almost guaranteed to stay homeless since they will not be able to get a job or rent an apartment without ID,” said Hank Hughes, executive director of New Mexico Coalition to End Homelessness. “We cannot wait, we need MVD to follow the law and give people a fair shot at getting an ID now.”

In 2016, Republican and Democratic legislators came together and created a two-tiered driver’s license system that gives New Mexicans the choice to opt in or out of the federal REAL ID Act. According to the law, the state must provide a REAL ID-compliant license or ID card to eligible residents who want it and can meet the federal government’s onerous requirements. An alternative non-REAL ID license or ID card for otherwise eligible applicants who do not meet the federal requirements or simply do not want a REAL ID, must also be made available.

The defendants in the lawsuit are the TRD, acting Cabinet Secretary John Monforte, the MVD and acting MVD Director Alicia Ortiz.

Individual plaintiffs who were denied licenses and ID cards are joined by organizational plaintiffs New Mexico Coalition to End Homelessness and Somos Un Pueblo Unido in the lawsuit. Urias of Freedman, Boyd, Hollander Goldberg Urias & Ward, P.A. is the lead counsel on the legal team that includes attorneys from Somos, ACLU-NM, and the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty.

To view the Plaintiffs’ motion for injunction, click here: http://nmpovertylaw.org/tromotion/

Farm Bill proposal would hurt southern New Mexico economy and leave families hungry

ALBUQUERQUE — The cuts to food assistance proposed in the 2018 House Farm Bill, which could be voted on as early as next week, would have a particularly harmful impact on southern New Mexico’s Congressional District 2. The district is in an agricultural and rural part of the state where almost one in four people participate in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps, to buy groceries and healthy food.

Rep. Steve Pearce has voiced his support for the proposed SNAP cuts in the Farm Bill, which would cut funding for SNAP by $20 Billion over the next ten years by cutting eligibility for families, penalizing people looking for work, and other changes.

“We need a Farm Bill that actually supports farmers and our shared work to eliminate hunger in the community,” said George Lujan, executive director of SouthWest Organizing Project (SWOP). “Southern New Mexico is one of the most prolific agricultural regions in the country where we grow many of our most popular traditional foods. There’s no reason for a high instance of hunger in an area where food has such deep cultural and historical roots. We need to make sure our policy decisions are in line with our shared belief that everyone has enough to eat in our community.”

SNAP has been vital in helping struggling southern New Mexicans afford a basic diet. At least 162,393 New Mexicans in Pearce’s district participate in SNAP. Most of these families include children and nearly a third include senior citizens. Over half of the SNAP participants in District 2 are in working families.

“Roadrunner Food Bank is deeply concerned about the House Agriculture Committee’s Farm Bill legislation. The bill’s severe cuts to the SNAP program will lengthen the lines at our pantries, soup kitchens, and other sites that serve hungry people,” said Mag Strittmatter, president and CEO of Roadrunner Food Bank. “Deep cuts to SNAP will negatively impact the people we serve and increase hunger in our community. We want to see a strong Farm Bill that protects the hungry as well as struggling farmers and rural communities, but this bill as drafted would only worsen hunger and make it harder for children, seniors, and families to access food assistance.”

If the Farm Bill passes, it would cut SNAP eligibility by reducing the net income limits from 165 percent to 130 percent of the Federal Poverty Level and removing any options for New Mexico to increase the eligibility level. It would also add bureaucratic requirements removed decades ago like requiring New Mexicans to provide their utility bill to their local Income Support Division office.

“Federal Nutrition programs like SNAP account for 80 percent of the Farm Bill, and this Congress is seeking to slash it by $20 Billion. The local impact would be devastating. In Dona Ana County alone, over 60,000 of our neighbors are recipients of SNAP benefits,” said Krysten Aguilar, director of operations and policy advocacy at La Semilla Food Center. “This bill targets our most vulnerable families and children and attacks their ability to eat.”

Aguilar continued, “SNAP benefits generate $1.70 of economic activity for every federal $1 spent, so not only is the program working to feed people, it is creating jobs and stimulating our local economy. This bill is cruel, senseless, and economically unsound.”

SNAP program cuts would decrease economic activity in southern New Mexico, where SNAP benefits boost food purchases spent at local grocers and farmer’s markets by hundreds of millions of dollars a year. On average, SNAP participants in New Mexico receive $121 a month in benefits. That amounts to $19 Million spent in local businesses across Southern New Mexico each month.

The Farm Bill does nothing to increase employment or wages, but proposes a one-size-fits-all work hour requirement for an expanded number of adults that would force states to develop large new bureaucracies. Unemployed or underemployed adults, including those with children over 6 years old, would be cut off of SNAP for up to three years if they cannot comply with the requirements.

New Mexico had a similar program from 2011 to 2016. Data from HSD showed that the majority of participants lost food benefits and there were no improvements in earnings or employment. In fact, the state’s administration of the program was so poor, a federal judge ordered the state to cease implementation.

“We know SNAP works in New Mexico. Cutting it would take food away from people struggling to make ends meet, and from children and working people,” said William Townley, an attorney at the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty. “It is completely backward to take food away from people who are struggling to find work or are unable to work. Instead, Congress should work together on legislation that provides meaningful job training and jobs with wages families can actually live on.”

New Mexico has consistently qualified for a statewide waiver of any federal penalties on unemployed adults because New Mexico has persistently high unemployment compared with the national average. Under the new bill, most of New Mexico would no longer qualify for a waiver.

The Farm Bill, a piece of legislation renewed every five years, includes the budget for food and agriculture programs, such as crop insurance and subsidies, rural development, SNAP, and other nutrition programs.

For more information on SNAP in New Mexico, go to: http://nmpovertylaw.org/proposed-budget-will-increase-hunger-and-inequality-in-nm-february-2018/

For information on SNAP participants in District 2 by county, go to: http://nmpovertylaw.org/snap-participants-and-total-pop-dist-2-table/