Regulations on small loans law do not adequately protect borrowers

ALBUQUERQUE— The Financial Institutions Division issued regulations today implementing a state law that caps interest rates on storefront loans. The FID made almost no changes to the minimal regulations it proposed earlier this year, even though New Mexicans overwhelmingly asked the state to improve enforcement by collecting data on the industry, closing loan renewal loopholes, and requiring lenders to disclose the true costs of loans to borrowers and to make those disclosures in the language a borrower understands.

“All New Mexicans deserve access to fair and transparent loans under reasonable terms, but unfortunately, these regulations completely fail to fulfill the legislature’s  primary intent to protect borrowers,” said Lindsay Cutler, attorney at the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty. “In fact, they are so lacking in teeth that New Mexico families have no guarantees that the terms of their loans will be clearly explained to them. Worse still, the regulations are completely bare of mandatory data reporting requirements, which will make it impossible to verify that storefront lenders are actually following the law.”

Before passage of HB 347 in the 2017 legislative session, many small loans were unregulated and borrowers were frequently charged interest rates of 300 percent APR or more. Reforms to the Small Loan Act went into effect January 1, 2018, capping interest rates at 175 percent APR and eliminating traditional short-term payday and title loans.  All storefront and online loans made in 2018 must have a minimum loan term of 120 days, and require a minimum of four payments.

However, the FID did not issue regulations to reflect the new standards until today, a full eight months after the law went into effect. The regulations the division did issue do not require lenders to provide borrowers with meaningful information about the costs of their loans and the consumer protections required by the new law. The regulations also fail to address the need to make disclosures and financial information available in a language that the borrower understands.

“It’s unfortunate that New Mexico FID did not take the opportunity to include language assistance as part of the new regulations, knowing that a majority of border town small loans are from Navajo consumers. It is important that we continue to advocate for legal contracts to be explained in the Navajo language or any other language in which consumers are able to fully comprehend the contracts they are signing,” said Leonard Gorman, executive director of the Navajo Nation Human Rights Commission.

The new regulations also fail to close loopholes in loan renewals, which may extend old loan terms, leaving borrowers vulnerable to interest rates and fees that are now illegal under the law. In addition, the regulations do not require lenders to provide data on small loans, making it impossible to tell if storefront lenders are adhering to the law and how the law is impacting New Mexicans. The FID failed to explain why it elected to ignore the dozens of comments submitted by New Mexicans asking the division to enact meaningful consumer protections.

Without meaningful regulations and reporting requirements, the FID and legislators cannot verify that the consumer protections intended by the new law are reaching New Mexico families. This means that the small loan industry, which makes hundreds of millions of dollars from New Mexico families, will continue to operate without transparency.

“We’re pleased that the FID has, at long last, finalized and posted regulations to implement the 2017 law. However, these regulations do very little to address our concerns and lack the substantive consumer protections we have been advocating for,” said Michael Barrio, director of advocacy at Prosperity Works. “An appropriate regulatory framework that adequately addresses areas that allow lenders to continue to circumvent limitations and protections that have been put in place by the 2018 small loan reforms is absolutely necessary if we hope to honestly protect hard working New Mexicans from predatory lending practices.”

The finalized FID regulations can be found here: http://164.64.110.134/nmac/nmregister/adoptedxxix16

A factsheet on regulations the FID should enact to enforce the small loans act can be found here: http://nmpovertylaw.org/fact-sheet-fid-must-enact-regulations-to-enforce-the-small-loans-act-2018-07/

Medicaid buy-in could be a reality in New Mexico

by Mandisa Routheni

An innovative plan to open up Medicaid so that anyone could buy into it — even if they don’t qualify for Medicaid currently — is gaining momentum in our state and country. Medicaid buy-in bills have been introduced in Congress as the idea is being explored in New Mexico, Colorado, Delaware, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Colorado, and Oklahoma. But New Mexico has made more progress than anywhere in the country. 

Family leaders share their own stories about why the Medicaid Buy-in is important to them. Click here for video.

People from all walks of life have come together in the NM Together for Healthcare campaign to create our own healthcare solution.

Just last night, after hearing from local family health leaders in the campaign, the City of Sunland Park City Council  unanimously passed a resolution in favor of exploring a Medicaid buy-in plan in New Mexico.  In June, community members  from the campaign testified before the McKinley County Commission, which unanimously passing a similar resolution.  

Olga Hernandez, a promotora and long-time Sunland Park resident said, “The passing of this resolution sends a clear message to legislators that Sunland Park is in support of a Medicaid buy-in plan. It is a priority and the time is now for healthcare access for all New Mexicans.”

Family leaders are continuing to work in Bernalillo and Doña Ana counties to garner more support through resolutions and holding convenings throughout New Mexico.

Late July, on the 53rd anniversary of Medicaid, families affected by lack of affordable healthcare and organizations from across the state and country met in Albuquerque to discuss a Medicaid buy-in plan that would provide access to quality, affordable healthcare for the uninsured and a feasible alternative for those who have insurance, but cannot afford the out-of-pocket costs.

Medicaid already covers 40 percent of New Mexicans and has provided low cost coverage to New Mexicans for over 50 years. Yet over 180,000 people are still uninsured in our state, including immigrant and undocumented populations. For those that have insurance, healthcare costs are often unsustainable and continue to rise.

Berenice Campas, a New Mexico Together for Healthcare family leader from Bernalillo County sees the Medicaid Buy-in as an important “way for lots of families from around the state to have access to health care. They wouldn’t have to wait to have an emergency before being able to go in.”

Family leaders in the campaign, along with local advocates such as Congressman Ben Ray Lujan and national healthcare experts like Andy Slavitt, agreed at the July meeting that a well-designed Medicaid buy-in plan would be a key step towards solving our state’s healthcare crisis.

During the 2018 legislative session, memorials to explore the Medicaid Buy-in passed with bipartisan support in both the New Mexico House and Senate.

Christopher Hudson, a New Mexico Together for Healthcare leader from McKinley County hopes for a  Medicaid Buy-in option because “families, around my communities, my friends, my K’e’- in Navajo – that is our family, our surroundings, everyone will be be able to afford insurance without having to decide whether they want to pay for a doctor’s bill or gas bill.”

Join the movement. Follow NM Together for Healthcare on Twitter, Facebook, and sign up for updates on our website.

 

New Mexicans can now more easily access identification cards

New Mexico has a two-tiered driver’s license system that gives New Mexicans the choice to opt in or out of the federal REAL ID Act requirements. However, the Motor Vehicles Division was illegally denying access to the REAL ID alternative by requiring unnecessary and burdensome paperwork. MVD also illegally denied licenses and IDs without informing people that they could appeal a denial.

On behalf of New Mexicans illegally denied the second tier licenses and IDs, the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty along with Somos un Pueblo Unido, New Mexico Coalition to End Homelessness, the ACLU-NM, and Freedman Boyd Hollander Goldberg Urias & Ward PA sued the state and the MVD ultimately agreed to a settlement.

After filing for a temporary restraining order, the MVD immediately eliminated the illegal requirement to get a non-REAL ID and agreed to notify families about the appeals process. The final settlement agreement requires MVD to train workers, provide accurate informational materials to the public and on its website, and to engage in a public information campaign to notify New Mexicans of the new requirements.

You can find a press release about the victory here: http://nmpovertylaw.org/2018/08/new-mexicans-prevail-in-drivers-license-lawsuit/

The settlement agreement can be found here: http://nmpovertylaw.org/17-stipulated-order-2018-08-15/

PED scraps retention rule for five to eight-year-olds

By Marina Candace Butler

We all want our children to be good readers – it’s critical for a successful life. We know that our children are just as capable of learning to read as kids anywhere, but they need the right programs that will actually help them learn.

Center staff attorney, Lauren Winkler discusses PED’s proposed rule and what we really need to improve literacy rates. Click here for video.

What we do know is that flunking kids does not help them learn. In fact, children who are held back don’t do as well in school and have a greater risk of dropping out. New Mexico already has one of the lowest graduation rates rates in the country—25 percent of our students don’t finish school. Despite this, the PED proposed a regulation that would require school districts to retain five to eight-year-olds in kindergarten through third grade if they don’t score at grade level on a single state-determined high stakes test.

Along with New Mexico families and other allies, the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty spoke out against the rule, and the department decided to stop its efforts to hold our youngest students back. Now those who know the child best can decide what steps should be taken to increase literacy.

Instead of broadening the ineffective and harmful practice of holding children back in school, we should increase access to the evidenced-based programs that actually help our children learn to read. For example, we know that PreK, K-3 Plus, extended learning time, and professional development closes achievement gaps.

Unfortunately, at least 52,000 New Mexico students do not have access to K-3 Plus. 23,000 don’t have access to full-day New Mexico Pre-K. Our teachers are among the lowest paid in the country. Instead of adopting these evidence based programs, the PED still intends to continue one-size-fits-all testing that fails our children and schools.

If we want our children and our state to succeed, we need to invest in the future of New Mexico’s children.

City of Sunland Park backs ‘Medicaid Buy-in’

City Council moved by local support and statewide momentum

SUNLAND PARK, NEW MEXICO– The City Council of Sunland Park, after hearing testimony from New Mexico Together for Healthcare family leaders who live in Sunland Park, passed a resolution on Tuesday in favor of continuing the state’s efforts to shape a healthcare solution that would open up Medicaid for any New Mexican to buy into — regardless of their current Medicaid eligibility.

“I am very excited about a Medicaid Buy-in option” said Olga Hernandez, a long-time Sunland Park resident and Strong Families New Mexico healthcare advocate. “We need to be looking for ways to provide access to quality healthcare for everyone, like the over 25,000 Doña Ana County residents that don’t have health insurance. Medicaid already serves over 100,000 people in Doña Ana. We should be building on this very good program.”

Since the bipartisan passing of the Medicaid Buy-in memorials in the New Mexico House and Senate during the 2018 legislative session, community members and policymakers have become more interested in this innovative plan.

The McKinley County Commission, with widespread community support, unanimously passed a similar resolution in support of the Medicaid Buy-in this past June.

Allowing Sunland Park residents to buy into Medicaid would provide families without health insurance and undocumented individuals who do not qualify for Medicaid access to an affordable health insurance option. Having more New Mexicans covered would reduce uncompensated care costs that are shifted to taxpayers, doctors, and hospitals, and reduce medical debt among families trying to build financial security.

“My husband was always working and my kids did not have access to medical insurance,” said Olga. “My husband and my three sons came to the city of Sunland Park looking for family wellness. When my husband got very sick with heart problems, he had to stop working and we had no money. We were able to find a solution through Medicaid, but a lot of families like me can’t get it for whatever reason. This has to change.”

The Sunland Park City Council will include this resolution in their legislative requests for the upcoming 2019 session and share the resolution with state legislators.

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NM Together for Healthcare is a statewide, multiracial campaign of families and community organizations working together to strengthen healthcare access in New Mexico, supported by Strong Families New Mexico, Partnership for Community Action, New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty and Health Action New Mexico. For information, visit http://nmtogether4health.org/ or email: nmtogether4healthcare@gmail.com.

New Mexicans prevail in driver’s license lawsuit

SANTA FE, NM – On Tuesday, civil rights groups and homeless advocates announced a settlement agreement reached in a lawsuit against the New Mexico Taxation and Revenue Department and the Motor Vehicles Division that requires the state to properly implement its two-tiered driver’s license law and take much-needed steps to ensure New Mexicans can more easily access to an alternative to the federal REAL ID as state legislators intended.

“Everyday New Mexicans came out on top today,” said David Coss, former mayor of Santa Fe and lead plaintiff in the lawsuit filed in January. “I look forward to finally obtaining my state license knowing that other people won’t have to go through the difficult and frustrating process I did. I believe that government should create opportunities for residents to get ahead, not barriers that get in their way. This settlement ensures fewer barriers and restored access to these essential documents.”

The lawsuit Coss v. Monforte challenged the MVD’s regulations governing the issuance of non-REAL ID driver’s licenses and identification cards, including the illegal practices of requiring proof of an “identification number” and not providing adequate due process to applicants who were denied a credential. The roll out of those regulations caused many applicants across the state to be wrongly denied a license or ID, and in countless cases, it triggered multiple visits to MVD and other government agencies for additional documentation not required by law.

On Friday afternoon, Santa Fe First Judicial District Court Judge David K. Thomson signed the settlement agreement between MVD, organizational plaintiffs and individual plaintiffs delineating what the MVD must do to have the case dismissed with prejudice.

Under the settlement agreement, the MVD will:

  • No longer require proof of an identification number, such as a social security number, to apply for a Driving Authorization Card (DAC) or non-federally compliant identification card.
  • Implement new regulations that will only require proof of New Mexico residency, identity and age for a non-REAL ID credential.
  • Expand the list of acceptable documents to show proof of New Mexico residency, identity and age.
  • Inform applicants who are denied a DAC or non-federally compliant identification card on the basis of a fingerprint background check of the reason for the denial, evidence the applicant can provide MVD to resolve the denial and information on how to appeal a denial and the timeframe for doing so.
  • Provide additional training to MVD clerks and public information regarding the new rules and policies.

In 2016, New Mexico lawmakers 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. While the state law requires MVD to provide a REAL ID-compliant license or ID card to New Mexicans who can meet the federal government’s burdensome requirements, the MVD is also required to issue a non-REAL ID license or ID card to eligible applicants who do not meet the federal requirements or simply do not want a REAL ID.

The plaintiffs in the lawsuit included senior citizens, immigrants, and homeless New Mexicans who need a license or ID to go to work or school, obtain housing, medical care or other necessities.

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. David 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.

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

The following are additional statements from plaintiff organizations and the legal team:

“A broad coalition of community groups, public safety advocates and legislators has worked together over a 15-year span to ensure that all New Mexicans have the ability to apply for a license or ID, critical tools in navigating every day life,” said Marcela Díaz, Executive Director of Somos Un Pueblo Unido, an organizational plaintiff in the lawsuit. “The onerous and misguided federal REAL ID Act threatened our common sense licensing policies, but the Legislature pushed back and gave us a real alternative that meets the needs of New Mexicans. We are satisfied that through this agreement, citizens and non-citizens alike will have access to accurate information about the non-REAL ID license, as well as a more efficient process to obtain it.”

“This agreement is an important victory for New Mexicans experiencing homelessness,” said Hank Hughes, Executive Director of New Mexico Coalition to End Homelessness. “Obtaining an identification card is often the first step for someone who has lost everything, as they put their life back together. This agreement removes the unnecessary barriers that were in place with the old regulations.”

“We’re relieved the MVD has agreed to stop asking New Mexicans to provide unnecessary documentation in order to get a non-REAL ID license or ID,” said Sovereign Hager, legal director at the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty. “MVD’s decision to comply with our state law benefits all New Mexicans, but especially families who do not have a stable place to live or consistent employment. An ID or driver’s license is a basic necessity to do just about anything. Without one, you can’t drive, fill a prescription, cash a check, find housing, or get job to support your family. We hope MVD will continue to work on common sense improvements that will streamline access to IDs and licenses for all New Mexicans.”

“We applaud the professionalism of MVD officials in hammering out this agreement with our organizations,” said Gabriela Ibañez Guzmán, staff attorney with Somos Un Pueblo Unido and co-counsel in the lawsuit. “The settlement represents a sensible solution that will benefit hardworking New Mexicans and ensure that people are not left without a driver’s license or ID.”

“The federal REAL ID was a bad law that imposed unnecessary identification requirements on New Mexico residents,” said ACLU of New Mexico executive director Peter Simonson. “In its wisdom, the Legislature passed a law to ensure compliance while also guaranteeing our most vulnerable residents have opportunity to continue access to a driver’s license or state ID and today’s settlement agreement allows that purpose to be fulfilled. That said, we believe there is more work to do to ensure New Mexico residents aren’t left out due to fingerprinting requirements and other obstacles.”

The City of Sunland Park to consider supporting innovative ‘Medicaid buy-in’ option

Resolution to be voted on at Tuesday’s meeting

SUNLAND PARK, NEW MEXICO–On Tuesday, Doña Ana healthcare leaders in the New Mexico Together for Healthcare campaign will present a resolution to the Sunland Park City Council that supports the state’s exploration of an innovative plan allowing New Mexicans the opportunity to buy-in to the proven, trusted Medicaid healthcare system. The City Council is expected to pass the resolution.

The affordable healthcare option would allow New Mexicans to buy into the Medicaid program for healthcare coverage – even if they are not currently eligible for Medicaid – providing a more affordable, high quality healthcare coverage option.
With more than 25,000 Doña Ana County residents currently without health insurance, a Medicaid buy-in plan would make quality healthcare coverage more accessible for many local residents. Sunland Park residents have reached out to the city councilors and urged them to support the resolution.

WHAT:
The City of Sunland Park will vote on an important resolution supporting the state’s work to explore a Medicaid buy-In plan.

WHEN:
6 p.m., Tuesday, August 21, 2018

WHERE:
Sunland Park City Hall, City Council Chambers, 1000 McNutt Rd, Sunland Park, NM 88063

WHO:
Sunland Park City Council

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NM Together for Healthcare is a statewide, multiracial campaign of families and community organizations working together to strengthen healthcare access in New Mexico, supported by Strong Families New MexicoPartnership for Community ActionNew Mexico Center on Law and Poverty and Health Action New Mexico. For information, visit http://nmtogether4health.org/ or email: nmtogether4healthcare@gmail.com.

Annoucing Sireesha Manne as NMCLP’s executive director

The New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty is pleased to announce Sireesha Manne is taking the helm as our executive director. Sireesha has been serving as interim director since February, and has been an attorney with the Center for the last 10 years. With a strong commitment to New Mexico’s families, she has led and collaborated on successful major campaigns, including to expand healthcare access in the state. She is known for her high-caliber policy and legal advocacy, skill with developing effective strategies, and perseverance in achieving lasting results. She leads with a vision for economic and racial justice centered in our communities, and has over 20 years of experience working with nonprofit organizations.

A message from Sireesha:

The Center stands united with our families and community partners in advancing a bold movement for change in New Mexico. I am very grateful to be part of an exceptional and dedicated team as we enter the next chapter of our history — working together to make healthcare affordable for all, ensure every family has food security, fair wages, and financial well-being, and to pursue wholescale transformation of our public education system so that every child has the opportunity to succeed.

Thank you to everyone who has supported us over the years, to the many collaborators that have helped build the Center – both inside and outside the organization – and to all who have made this transition a success. I look forward to working with you in the months and years to come.

Sireesha Manne
Executive Director

Celebrating our Summer 2018 Legal Interns

The New Mexico Center for Law and Poverty would like to recognize its three outstanding summer legal interns: Yarrow Allaire, Erika Avila Stephanz, and Verenice Peregrino Pompa.

Yarrow Allaire

Yarrow Allaire worked with the Center’s Workers’ Rights team focusing on combating wage theft. She is a recipient of the Peggy Browning Fellowship for dedicated students who are interested in pursuing work in labor law and workers’ rights.

Allaire, who grew up on a small farm in Albuquerque’s South Valley, first chose teaching as a career. She taught geography to ninth graders in McAllen, Texas and later government, economics, and New Mexico history to high school students in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Her personal history and teaching experience made Allaire keenly aware of barriers to opportunity because of race, class, gender, and geography. She decided to go to law school to advocate for legal reforms that promote economic and social justice for all people.

Allaire holds a B.A. in Political Science from the University of New Mexico. She will graduate from the UNM School of Law in 2020.

Erika Avila Stephanz

Erika Avila Stephanz worked with the Center’s Fair Lending team, which advocates for access to fair loans under reasonable terms for all New Mexicans. She is a recipient of the Seth Montgomery Fellowship for outstanding law students who have demonstrated an interest in public interest law.

A native of Albuquerque, Avila Stephanz worked outside the state for several years. The stark inequality and lack of resources for so many New Mexicans, however, motivated her to pursue systematic change locally, and she plans to continue to address socioeconomic inequality in our state.

Avila Stephanz served on the executive board of the Mexican American Law Student Association (MALSA) and is a current member of the organization. She has a dual BA in Psychology and Spanish from the University of New Mexico. She will graduate from the UNM School of Law in 2019.

Verenice Peregrino Pompa

Verenice Peregrino Pompa worked with the Center’s Education team, focusing on equitable access to education for children in New Mexico, especially Native American children and children in juvenile detention. She is a recipient of the Craig Othmer Fellowship for committed students motivated to pursue a career in public interest law.

Peregrino Pompa’s personal experiences in the rural public schools she attended in Chihuahua, Mexico and the San Luis Valley in Colorado inspired her to fight for equal access to resources for all students. As a Mexican immigrant student in the San Luis Valley, Peregrino Pompa had firsthand experience with the lack of resources available to minority students, immigrant students, and English language learners (ELL). She looks forward to a future in public policy and advocacy.

Peregrino Pompa is the Multicultural Relations Editor of UNM’s Tribal Law Journal and the president of MALSA. She has a B.S. in Biology from the University of New Mexico and will graduate from the UNM School of Law in 2019.