Staff Attorney Position

We are looking for a dynamic and creative staff attorney who would be assigned to either our Public Benefits team or Labor team to provide legal representation, policy advocacy, and community education. The Public Benefits team addresses hunger and secure fundamental fairness in the administration of the public safety net for low-income New Mexicans, covering SNAP, TANF, childcare assistance and other programs. The Labor team works to improve pay and working conditions in New Mexico in collaboration with other worker justice groups and community organizers. This would be a full time permanent position.

Required: minimum two years as an attorney; excellent research, writing, and legal advocacy skills; ‘no-stone-unturned’ thoroughness and persistence; strong leadership skills; ability to problem-solve creatively; Spanish fluency; commitment to economic and racial justice. Preferred: experience in advocacy, lobbying, legislative and government processes; experience working with community groups and coalitions.

Apply in confidence by emailing a resume and cover letter to contact@nmpovertylaw.org. We are an equal opportunity employer. People with disabilities, people of color, and people who have grown up in low-income communities are especially encouraged to apply.

Court must ensure NM kids’ right to sufficient education

By Gail Evans, Lead Attorney for plantiffs, Yazzie v. State of New Mexico
(This article appeared in the Albuquerque Journal.)

Our courts have the critical role of upholding the constitutional rights of our children. New Mexico’s Constitution guarantees children a sufficient education, one that prepares them for the rigors of college and the workforce. But for decades, our state has failed our students.

Our public education system is woefully insufficient, leading a district court to rule last July that the state is violating the constitutional rights of our students. After volumes of evidence and testimony from dozens of experts, the court found the state has not adequately invested in public education nor adopted the educational instruction and programs constitutionally required to close achievement gaps for N.M. students, especially low-income, Native American, English-language learners and students with disabilities.

The legislative process is a political one fraught with competing interests. For years, our children have been shortchanged by legislative budgets that have consistently underfunded public schools. Unfortunately, even after the court’s ruling, the Legislature this year only went part of the way in addressing the changes necessary.

While the funding allocated for public schools is higher than in recent years, it won’t even get us back to 2008 levels when adjusted for inflation. Like today, in 2008, our funding was insufficient and our state’s education outcomes ranked at or near the bottom nationally. Filling a hole that gets us back to 2008 levels of funding is not the investment in education our Constitution requires.

The increased funding will not be sufficient to ensure social services, counseling, health care and literacy specialists are available to all students who need them. It is not enough to cover basic instructional materials for the classroom, or to invest in our educators to attract and retain new teachers and expand their qualifications. It is not enough to ensure teaching is tailored to the unique cultural and linguistic needs of our students, including English-language learners and indigenous communities. And the transportation budget remains insufficient to ensure all students have the opportunity to participate in after-school and summer programs.

While the governor’s call for a “moonshot for education” is certainly the kind of vision we need, a moonshot requires sufficient investment of programs, services, time and money that we have yet to commit.

While it is encouraging our new governor will not appeal the Yazzie/Martinez ruling, she has now called for the court to vacate sections of the ruling. This will only further endanger our students’ life chances. The state should instead work to comply with the ruling and the Constitution; the future success of our children and New Mexico depends on it. Children should not be pawns in the political process. It is the role of the judicial branch to interpret and enforce the law. The court ruling requires us to act, mandating that we do better by our students. Our children are smart and capable, and rich in culture and diversity. We can provide an education system that serves all New Mexicans, regardless of their economic circumstances or cultural background.

I dream of a moonshot for education, too

By Wilhelmina Yazzie, lead plaintiff in the Yazzie/Martinez v. New Mexico lawsuit.
(This op-ed appeared in the Santa Fe New Mexican)

When it comes to providing a quality education for every child in New Mexico, the stakes are too high for the “wait and see” approach the Santa Fe New Mexican takes in its recent editorial (“Educators must take the lead in reforms,” Our View, March 24).

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has said she wants a “moonshot for education.” As the lead plaintiff in the Yazzie/Martinez v. state of New Mexico lawsuit, I, too, dream of a moonshot for my children and for all of New Mexico’s children. I am of the Diné (Navajo) tribe and we view our children as “sacred.” They are the heart of our existence, and it is our responsibility to prepare them for iiná, what we call “life” in my language.

Our state constitution mandates that the state of New Mexico is responsible for providing a sufficient education for all students. The state has not followed through on its obligation, and in her court ruling on our lawsuit, Judge Sarah Singleton agreed.

The Legislature had a chance this session to change course, but it did not go nearly far enough. The funding increases for public education passed in this legislative session only serve to backfill budgets and do not even return basic school programming to 2008 levels. They will not adequately cover the critical programs needed to improve outcomes for all students — especially for our Native American children, our Latino/Hispanic children, our English language learners, our low-income children and our children with special needs.

My children’s schools do not have enough textbooks. Our teachers do not have basic classroom supplies. When it comes to testing, my children do not score at grade level, despite getting good grades and being on honor roll. My children do not receive enough academic support and resources to get them ready for these tests, and they have to pass these tests to graduate. Our schools have limited after-school programs and tutoring.

Our schools also lack one of the most important teachings for our youth — cultural and language education. It is imperative that we bring culturally relevant programs and resources into our schools, especially at a time like this. Our children are yearning for their identity and values, and others are searching for acceptance.

Being culturally connected to our language and culture help us find purpose and guidance; it gives us confidence and motivation to excel in all that we do. It also teaches our children our way of life and the meaning of our existence, gives us pride in who we are and where we come from. It also teaches non-Native children and educators our history and with that knowledge brings respect for one another and creates hózhó (peace) between all people that we interact with. That is the path to balance and harmony.

I am asking our state and our lawmakers to address all these issues; to act upon the court’s ruling and honor the constitutional rights of our students. We need pre-K for every student. We need more multilingual teachers, and they deserve better pay. All classrooms should have access to textbooks, technology and other basic resources. Our children should be our first priority. They are the next generation, and all I want is for my children, your children, our children to receive the quality education that they deserve.

To transform our public education system, it will take the dedication and cooperation of every member of our community— from tribal leaders to educators and experts to parents. We need everyone at the table if we are to succeed at what is most important to us: helping our children realize their dreams.

Legislative Wrap Up 2019

Dear friends,

This legislative session was a turning point for New Mexico. The efforts of the Center on Law and Poverty and our partners paved the way for historic changes for our state and started long overdue dialogue about the bold changes that must be made for children and families. This could not have happened without you! THANK YOU for the countless phone calls, emails to your legislators, testimony in committee hearings, and sharing of information with your networks and through social media.

We have much to celebrate together and are especially proud to share several major victories.

Our advocacy efforts and expert testimony were instrumental in achieving:

Historic wins for workers in New Mexico
Domestic and home care workers are now protected by basic labor laws. Along with our partners, we successfully eliminated outdated, discriminatory practices in our state so people doing some of the toughest jobs, like caring for others’ loved ones and cleaning houses, are protected by New Mexico’s minimum wage standards and other wage protections.

After a decade of stagnant wages, hard working New Mexicans will finally get a raise. Hundreds of workers from across New Mexico mobilized in support of a wage increase this session. It was a long and challenging fight, but starting in January 2020, the state minimum wage will be raised to $9 an hour and increase annually until reaching $12 an hour in 2023. This will directly impact 150,901 workers in our state—nearly 20 percent of the workforce.

Loopholes closed in small loans laws
Everyone should be able to understand the terms of their loans, especially when these loans are taken out from storefront lenders. Our advocacy with our partners led to significantly more accountability and transparency by mandating that lenders report relevant data to the state and by aligning our small loan laws so all New Mexico families receive fairer loans.

Public education a top priority
After winning the Yazzie/Martinez court ruling on behalf of families and school districts, we joined with education, tribal and community leaders, and students to form the Transform Education NM coalition and used this historic opportunity to bring education to the forefront this legislative session. New Mexico’s education system must be rooted in a multicultural framework for our diverse student body, and our coalition won much needed funding for culturally and linguistically responsive instruction in rural areas. Overall, New Mexico saw an increase in education funding, and teachers got long overdue raises. However, we still have a long way to go, and we will not stop until every child has the education they need to succeed and are entitled to by the New Mexico Constitution. 

Progress toward innovative and affordable health coverage
Dozens of families, healthcare professionals, and advocates joined the NM Together for Healthcare campaign to work tirelessly for a Medicaid Buy-in option for New Mexicans who struggle to afford the outrageous costs of private insurance but don’t qualify for Medicaid. The Human Services Department will now receive funding to further study and begin the administrative development of a public option plan, including pursuing federal funding to help pay for it.

The path ahead
We’re focused on New Mexico’s future, and together with you, we will continue to push for complete transformation of our education system, expansion of early childhood education—including pre-K, childcare assistance and home visiting services—better pay and working conditions for workers, financial and food security, and access to healthcare for all of our families.

Sincerely,

Sireesha Manne                                                  
Executive Director

Bill guaranteeing basic wage protections for home care and domestic workers signed into law

SANTA FE—Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham signed a bill into law that ensures home care and domestic workers—the people who clean homes and deliver care for others—are protected by New Mexico’s minimum wage standards and other wage protections. Senate Bill 85, Domestic Service in Minimum Wage Act, is sponsored by Sen. Liz Stefanics and Rep. Christine Trujillo.

“This is a historic win for domestic and home care workers,” said Carlota Muñoz, a member of El CENTRO de Igualdad y Derechos. “During my employment at a cleaning service company, I stopped receiving payments for the hours I was working. I felt helpless and felt my work was not being given any respect. I am proud of the services I provide for my community, and I am glad to see this law go into effect that will provide workers like me more protections and assurance that their work will be valued like any other.”

Domestic workers have been left out of many labor protections throughout history, and typically have very few options when they’re not paid. SB 85 ends the exemptions for domestic workers from New Mexico’s wage laws—as has already been done at the federal level.

“We are proud of the work that domestic workers provide,” said Alicia Saenz, also a member of El CENTRO de Igualdad y Derechos. “There is nothing more important than taking care of New Mexico’s children, elderly, and family members with disabilities. It is invisible work, fraught with exploitation such as wage theft, and historically, our work has not been given the value it deserves. SB 85 is a step in the right direction to remedy that and to extend protections to enable us to assert our rights. We will continue to organize domestic workers and low-wage workers until all workers are treated with the dignity and respect that we deserve.”

New Mexico law generally requires employers to pay employees minimum wage and overtime, keep records, and pay employees in full and on time. However, like other wage laws enacted in the 1930s, it excluded large categories of work typically performed by women and people of color from the minimum wage and other protections.

“Domestic workers and home care workers have difficult and important jobs that we depend on,” said Stephanie Welch, supervising attorney at the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty. “This legislation eliminates outdated, discriminatory practices in New Mexico so people doing some of the toughest jobs, like caring for others’ loved ones and cleaning houses, are treated fairly and can seek recourse when they are not.”

Federal law eliminated its exclusion of domestic workers years ago, but lacking state protections, New Mexicans who work in people’s homes were not protected and subject to low or no pay and exploitative situations.

With the passage of SB 85 into law, domestic and home care workers will now be covered by New Mexico’s wage laws, and the New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions can investigate their complaints, enforce their rights, and recover their wages and damages.

“The New Mexico Legislature recognized that it’s high time to ensure all workers, including people who work hard in other people’s homes, are guaranteed fundamental labor protections just like everyone else,” said Adrienne R. Smith of New Mexico Caregivers Coalition. “Domestic workers’ historical exclusion from the federal labor laws is an ugly vestige of slavery. The federal government righted that wrong years ago. We are overjoyed that today New Mexico has finally done so as well.”

The New Mexico Senate passed SB 85 on February 18. The House of Representatives passed it on March 12.

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The New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty is dedicated to advancing economic and social justice through education, advocacy, and litigation. We work with low-income New Mexicans to improve living conditions, increase opportunities, and protect the rights of people living in poverty.

The New Mexico Caregivers Coalition advocates for direct care workers’ education, training, benefits, wages and professional development so they may better serve people who are elderly and those with disabilities.

El CENTRO de Igualdad y Derechos is a grassroots, Latino immigrant-led organization based in Central New Mexico that works with Latino immigrant communities and allies to defend, strengthen, and advance the rights of our community.

Governor signs bill to help rural school districts improve bilingual, multicultural education

HB 111 will support teachers with training to better serve culturally and linguistically diverse students, particularly in rural New Mexico

SANTA FE—Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham signed Representative Salazar’s HB 111, Cultural and Linguistic Education Support, funding Regional Education Cooperatives (RECs) to provide professional development to staff and teachers for culturally and linguistically responsive instruction.

“New Mexico is not like other states. Our diversity is our strength and it presents unique opportunities for how we leverage our multicultural and multilingual heritage to improve learning outcomes for students, regardless of their zip code,” said Rebecca Blum Martinez, professor and bilingual/ESL director, Department of Language, Literacy, & Sociocultural Studies, University of New Mexico’s College of Education. “Our education system has long been inequitable and unresponsive to the cultural and linguistic needs of our students, which research shows is critical to enabling students to learn and do well in school.”

HB 111 builds the capacity for Regional Education Cooperatives (RECs) to provide professional development for educators on culturally and linguistically responsive instruction. The bill provides funding for RECs to contract with local experts to offer strategies and techniques to most effectively teach culturally and linguistically diverse learners.

“Diverse students and their teachers across rural New Mexico face distinct challenges, only further compounded by the lack of training opportunities in multilingual and multicultural education,” said Edward Tabet-Cubero with Transform Education NM. “HB 111 creates a pathway for RECs to better serve students and improve outcomes.”

HB 111 is one key component of the Transform Education NM coalition platform to improve education outcomes for all New Mexico students. The platform is grounded in a multicultural, multilingual framework to reverse years of inadequate state investment in public education and close achievement gaps for New Mexico’s students, especially low-income, Native American, English-language learners, and students with disabilities. 

The bill’s primary sponsor was Representative Tomas Salazar and co-sponsors were Representative Linda Trujillo and Representative Derrick Lente.

Information on the Transform Education NM platform can be found here: https://transformeducationnm.org/our-platform/.  

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Transform Education NM is a coalition of educational leaders, families, tribal leaders, and the lawsuit plaintiffs working to transform the state’s education system for our students. To learn more, visit www.transformeducationnm.org.

Governor signs bill closing loopholes in small loans law

SANTA FE—Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham signed a bill today cleaning up state law that regulates storefront lenders. House Bill 150, Installment & Small Loan Changes, sponsored by Representative Georgene Louis, protects New Mexico borrowers by ensuring accountability and transparency in the storefront lending industry.

“Today we’ve made great progress toward fairness and transparency for New Mexican borrowers,” said Lindsay Cutler, attorney at the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty. “HB 150 cleans up loopholes in state law by requiring lenders to report relevant data to the state and aligns our small loan laws so all New Mexico families can receive fairer loans.”

New Mexico’s first across-the-board interest rate cap went into effect in January 2018, capping interest rates on storefront loans at 175 percent APR. However, high fees and loan rollovers continue to drain income from New Mexico borrowers. The two laws that regulate storefront lenders, the Small Loan and Bank Installment Loan Acts, still contain inconsistent fee and disclosure provisions, do not require sufficient reporting to the state’s Financial Institutions Division to enforce consumer protections, and do not make clear borrowers’ rights on loan renewals.

Starting January 1, 2020, HB 150 will:

  • Require lenders to provide relevant data on small loans, enabling the FID to verify storefront lenders are adhering to small loans law and for the state to evaluate how the law is impacting New Mexicans;
  • Allow borrowers 24 hours to rescind a high-interest loan;
  • Align fee provisions and disclosure requirements in the Small Loan and Bank Installment Loan Acts so consumer protections are consistent for all borrowers;
  • Protect New Mexican borrowers from potential loopholes when they renew or rollover loans by clarifying the definition of new loans; and
  • Align the penalties for violating the small loan laws and the language around the Unfair Practices Act to ensure that companies are held accountable for unfair, deceptive and unconscionable practices.

“The small loan industry makes hundreds of millions of dollars from hardworking New Mexico families,” said Cutler. “HB 150 goes a long way to make sure our small loan law is clear of ambiguities and provides meaningful consumer protections that hold small loan companies accountable. Small loan reform is absolutely necessary if we hope to stop predatory lending practices.”

Action Alert – Ask governor to sign bill ensuring domestic workers are protected by New Mexico’s wage protections!

Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham has until noon Friday to sign a bill into law that ensures home care and domestic workers—the people who clean homes and deliver care for others—are protected by New Mexico’s minimum wage standards and other wage protections.

Please call her TODAY and ask her to sign Senate Bill 85, Domestic Service in Minimum Wage Act

There is nothing more important than taking care of New Mexico’s children, elderly, and family members with disabilities. SB 85 eliminates outdated, discriminatory practices in New Mexico so people doing some of the toughest jobs, like caring for others’ loved ones and working in our homes, are treated fairly and can seek recourse when they are not.

SB 85 ends the exemptions for domestic workers from New Mexico’s wage laws—as has already been done at the federal level.

Domestic workers have been left out of many labor protections throughout history, and typically have very few options when they’re not paid. If SB 85 is signed into law, domestic and home care workers will be covered by New Mexico’s wage laws, and the New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions can investigate their complaints, enforce their rights, and recover their wages and damages.

Call the governor now at (505) 476-2200 and tell her that ALL workers deserve to be treated fairly and to please sign SB 85.

Sincerely,

Stephanie Welch

New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty Workers’ Rights Supervising Attorney

New Mexico workers celebrate statewide minimum wage increase

SANTA FE–On Monday, dozens of New Mexico workers and their families gathered to celebrate as Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham signed into law a proposal that would increase the state minimum wage for the first time in over ten years.

Senate Bill 437, approved by the House of Representatives and the Senate, progressively increases the minimum wage from $7.50 to $12 per hour by 2023. Starting January 2020, the state minimum wage would be raised to $9, $10.50 in 2021, $11.50 in 2022 before settling at $12 per hour in 2023.

The newly signed law also contains the following provisions:

  • Gradually increases the “tipped credit” for tipped employees from the current $2.13 per hour to $3 per hour by 2023
  • Allows for a new sub-minimum wage for students at $8.50 per hour
  • Does not include an annual cost of living adjustment

Raising the minimum wage to $12.00/hr by 2023 would directly affect 150,901 workers or nearly 20 percent of the total workforce in the state. Directly affected workers would receive an annual increase of approximately $1,114.

A statewide minimum wage coalition mobilized hundreds of workers from across New Mexico during the session in support of a wage increase.

Below are reactions from low-wage workers and community organizations across New Mexico in celebration of the statewide minimum wage increase:

“Last month the legislature did it’s part to increase family economic security in New Mexico and today the governor fulfilled her gubernatorial campaign promise to raise the state’s minimum wage to get workers–who are the backbone of our state– one step closer to a livable wage,” said Margarita Castruita Flores a member of El CENTRO de Igualdad y Derechos. “With a salary of $12 an hour I could earn approximately $112 more per week, something that could help me pay for one of my utility bills, which I have trouble paying with my current wage. We are proud of the contributions low-wage workers like me provide to our state and we will continue our fight to ensure ALL workers in New Mexico have the opportunity to thrive.”

“Today is a victory for hard working New Mexicans who deserve a raise. We thank the Governor for signing this bill into law,” said J.D. Mathews, Political Director for New Mexico Working Families. “This is an important step towards economic security and ending poverty in our state. Our commitment to all workers receiving a living wage continues”.

“After ten years of wage stagnation, I am so happy to see our state finally moving in the right direction. This raise will give twelve thousand dollars to workers who seriously need and deserve it,” said Lauren Shimamoto, Albuquerque service worker and member of OLÉ. “Thank you Governor Lujan-Grisham for signing this bill, it’s a great first step towards a living wage and a thriving New Mexico.”

“When workers are compensated fairy, everyone wins,” said Marcela Diaz, Executive Director for Somos Un Pueblo Unido. “$12 per hour will go along way to helping working families, rural communities and local economies prosper. By signing this bill, Governor Lujan Grisham recognizes just how essential workers are to our state’s future.”

“Today New Mexican workers achieved a great victory. For a decade, they’ve seen their spending power decrease, as the minimum wage stayed the same and the cost of living went up,” said Stephanie Welch, supervising attorney at the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty. “They deserve wages that allow them to provide for themselves and their families. They won this raise by coming together from all across the state to demand fair wages and respect for their hard work. 

*** Video and photos from the bill signing and worker-led celebration can be found here, here, here & here.