Sick Leave Ordinance Introduced at the Bernalillo County Commission

Low-wage workers, community leaders applaud first great step to building a stronger economy by ensuring our workers are healthy

Albuquerque, N.M.– During a packed meeting Tuesday night, the Bernalillo County Commission introduced a proposed paid sick leave ordinance for Bernalillo County —a step supporters of the ordinance say will support families succeed in building thriving communities.

Bernalillo County Commissioner Maggie Hart-Stebbins introduced the Bernalillo County Paid Sick Leave Ordinance as a way to alleviate the challenges working families face when forced to choose between losing a day’s pay or going to work sick because of the need to care for themselves or for their loved ones.

The proposed ordinance does the following:

  • The ordinance applies to any worker employed at least 56 hours per year at a business with two or more employees, the county, or a nonprofit with two or more employees in Bernalillo County.
  • It allows workers to accrue one hour of paid sick time for every 30 hours worked.
    • Employers are not required to provide more than a total of 56 hours per year.
    • Paid sick leave can be used starting on the 90th calendar day after they are hired.
    • Allows up to 56 hours of unused sick time carry over into the next year
  • Allows employers who currently have a PTO policy that exceeds the minimal requirements of this ordinance to continue with their current policy.

The following conditions exempt a business from providing paid sick leave:

  • Businesses or employers with only one employee
  • New business startups that obtain an exemption for their first year of business
  • And family-owned and operated businesses that employ only family members

“The introduction of a possible paid sick leave program in Bernalillo County makes sense because a strong economy begins with every worker in our community having the ability to care for their health and well being,” said Maggie Hart-Stebbins, Bernalillo County Commissioner. “Everyone gets sick and everyone should be able to take time to care for themselves or their families. Providing earned sick days protects the economic stability of working families and the public health across our community.”

According to a study by the University of New Mexico Bureau of Business and Economic Research, in the city of Albuquerque alone, 36% of private-sector workers have no paid sick leave and that 90% of those with household incomes less than $15,000 presently do not have paid sick leave.

The following are reactions from low-wage workers and community organizations from across bernalillo County who are in support of the ‘Paid Sick Leave’ ordinance:

“Family stability comes in a variety of ways: good public education, good paying jobs, and a support system to get us through unpredictable life moments, said Trae Buffin, member of OLÉ. “Paid Sick Leave is about putting our New Mexican families’ needs first and providing them the support they need to build thriving communities.”

“Unfortunately not every family or worker has a strong support system to go through sickness, family emergencies, or even protecting their own lives and those of their children,” said Mary Ann Maestas, Member, NM Working Families Party. “Today’s introduced proposal will alleviate this challenge by allowing workers to accrue paid time that can be used to care for those “life moments” while not losing a day pay or even their jobs.”

“Families shouldn’t have to worry about shattering their family budget and getting buried under healthcare costs because they can’t afford to lose a day’s pay,” said Hilda Gomez, low-wage worker and member of El CENTRO de Igualdad y Derechos. “Having paid sick leave ensures we take care of the most integral part of our state economy: OUR WORKERS! Because when our workers are ok, our economy is ok, and we increase our opportunity to make our state thrive.”

The proposed ‘paid sick leave’ ordinance is expected to be voted on June 25, 2019.

Court hearing on HSD compliance with orders to remove barriers to food and medical assistance next Thursday

LAS CRUCES—On Thursday at 10:30 a.m., in U.S. District Court in Las Cruces, Judge Kenneth Gonzales will hear an update on the New Mexico Human Services Department’s compliance with multiple court orders to remove barriers to food and medical assistance for eligible families.

At the hearing, the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty will provide information about a statistically significant review of food and medical assistance cases conducted between September 2018 to February 2019. Both the court appointed Special Master and the plaintiffs, represented by the Center, found that New Mexicans are still not getting the food and medical assistance they need because HSD continues to violate the law.

According to an extensive review by the Center of HSD client cases, HSD made errors in 202 out of 288 cases—an error rate of 70%. These errors led to 109 households of the 288 cases reviewed losing food or medical assistance, sometimes both. The Special Master validated nearly all these findings. The review found that HSD continues to illegally deny food and medical assistance in the following ways:

  • HSD illegally denies food and medical assistance to families who fail to provide unnecessary paperwork.
  • HSD’s own quality assurance team failed to find the vast majority of the errors found by the Center and the Special Master.
  • HSD does not consistently apply eligibility policy and application procedures.
  • HSD does not accurately inform families about their eligibility and what is needed to process their case.
  • HSD’s management team lacks expertise to administer food and medical programs in accordance with federal law.
  • HSD’s IT system requires changes to accurately process applications for benefits.

In September 2016, Judge Gonzales held former HSD Secretary Brent Earnest in contempt for failing to remove barriers to assistance for eligible families. The court appointed a Special Master to monitor and make recommendations to the department. In April 2018, the judge set a series of deadlines for HSD compliance with court ordered reforms.

The New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty report on it’s case review can be found here: http://nmpovertylaw.org/nmclp-report-on-hsd-case-review-2019-02-25-redacted/

The Gonzales v. Earnest joint status report can be found here: http://nmpovertylaw.org/doc-873-joint-status-report-2019-05-01/

WHAT:
U.S District Court status conference on HSD compliance with court orders in Deborah Hatten Gonzales v. Brent Earnest, No. 88-385 KG/CG

WHEN:
Thursday, May 16, 2019 at 10:30 a.m.

WHERE:
United States Courthouse
4th Floor, North Tower, Mimbres Courtroom
100 N. Church Street
Las Cruces, New Mexico 88001

WHO:
New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty attorneys
Court Appointed Special Master Lawrence M. Parker
HSD Secretary and Attorneys

ACTION ALERT: Stop the Trump administration from allowing predatory lenders to target low-income families

The federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau was created to protect people from predatory lending practices. However, under the Trump administration, the CFPB is now proposing to gut important consumer protections from the 2017 Payday Loan Rule, putting the interests of unscrupulous lenders over our families.

Please tell the Trump administration not to repeal regulations that protect low-income borrowers!  

In 2017, after conducting extensive research on storefront loans and payday lending, the CFPB finalized regulations to protect people from some of the worst predatory lending practices. The 2017 Payday Rule, scheduled to go into effect this August, mandates that lenders assess a borrower’s ability to repay a loan as a condition of making high cost title and payday loans.

Trump’s CFPB is proposing to revoke this protection that requires lenders to only provide loans that can be repaid, prioritizing the profits of payday and car title lenders over the consumers the agency was created to protect.

The storefront lending industry is built on making loans that borrowers cannot afford to repay. Payday lenders encourage borrowers to rollover their loans and take on more debt when they cannot make payments.

The debt trap is still common in New Mexico even though the state no longer permits short term loans. Instead, in our state lenders trap families in longer term debt at rates as high as 175% APR. Many payday lenders are national corporations that do business in New Mexico.

The 2017 Payday Rule should be implemented as it was originally written.

Protect the rights of consumers to fair loans by submitting your public comment! 

Information on submitting your comments and suggested content is below. 

Submit your comment here: https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2019/02/14/2019-01906/payday-vehicle-title-and-certain-high-cost-installment-loans’

The deadline is May 15, 2019. 

To maximize its impact, make sure at least a third of your comment is original text; otherwise, the CFPB might not consider it a valid comment. It is most important to note how high cost loans are harmful in our state, even if your comment is very brief. 

Content to consider in your comment: 

The 2017 CFPB Payday Rule is vital in stopping the debt trap of payday lending.

  • Requiring payday and car title lenders to assess whether customers can afford to pay loans back before entering into a contract is a commonsense foundation of responsible lending.
  • Payday lenders will stop at nothing to prevent this reasonable requirement because they want to perpetuate their business model that is driven by trapping people in longterm debt. 
  • The CFPB says that repealing the Payday Rule will be a “benefit” to payday lenders, but it will directly harm consumers who are stuck with unaffordable loans.
  • Rescinding the 2017 Payday Rule ignores extensive public comment and a wealth of research on the dangers of unregulated payday borrowing conducted by the CFPB itself.
  • The debt burden of payday loans forces families to choose between paying their bills or face ever-growing fees including overdraft fees, closed bank accounts, and even bankruptcy.
  • For car title loan borrowers, there is a huge risk that a family will lose their vehicle – frequently a low-income household’s sole means of getting to work, school, or medical appointments.

The proposal will hurt low-income borrowers.

  • In name, payday loans are not allowed in New Mexico. In reality, longer term installment loan products have taken their place, extracting just as many resources from cash-strapped families regardless of what they can afford.
  • Most storefront lenders in New Mexico operate in multiple states. Allowing the 2017 Final Rule to go into effect as planned will create a norm for the storefront lending industry that will help New Mexicans who take out loans from multi-state lenders and could support the development of similar consumer protections in New Mexico state law.

The CFPB should both implement the 2017 Payday Rule, and also study the impact of similar protections on longer-term loans to protect consumers across the country from predatory debt trap practices.

Court orders CYFD to lawfully manage Child Care Assistance Program

Department increased eligibility levels after families sued last year

SANTA FE—Working families will have increased access to much needed child care assistance as a result of a court order approving an agreement between working families and the New Mexico Children, Youth and Families Department. The order, entered by the First Judicial District Court in Santa Fe yesterday, mandates that CYFD will follow the law in managing New Mexico’s Childcare Assistance Program.

“Every family deserves access to quality child care while parents are at work or in school,” said Maria Griego, supervising attorney at the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty. “Only a third of eligible families in New Mexico currently access child care assistance because the application process and eligibility requirements are inconsistent and confusing. The settlement is a critical opportunity for CYFD to improve the well-being of children. We look forward to working with this administration to fix long standing barriers.”

Several families and OLÉ, represented by the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty, sued the department in September 2018, charging that CYFD illegally established a policy of denying child care assistance to families with incomes over 150% of the federal poverty level—a yearly income of $31,170 for a family of three—without publishing a regulation or going through the required public comment and hearing process. The lawsuit also argued that CYFD illegally failed to provide adequate notice to families about their child care benefits or establish a regulation that explains how CYFD determines the share of costs the family has to pay.

After the lawsuit, CYFD immediately increased eligibility for child care assistance to families with incomes up to 200% of the federal poverty level.

The court order requires CYFD to:

  • Maintain the current eligibility level until or unless CYFD lawfully passes regulations with public comment with a different eligibility level;
  • Put into regulation child care assistance eligibility requirements, including how CYFD calculates the amount of costs shared by parents;
  • Revise notices and forms that families receive or fill out in the application process;
  • Revise the manual CYFD workers use to determine eligibility for assistance;
  • Post eligibility information and application rights in all CYFD offices.

“We know that the earliest years in children’s lives are the most important in their development and lay the foundation for all that is to come,” said Traeshaun Buffin a community organizer at OLÉ. “The astronomical costs of child care prevent tens of thousands of New Mexican families with children from accessing meaningful work and educational opportunities. We’re so pleased that CYFD has agreed to stop denying eligible families the child care assistance they need and to adopt standards with public input to make the program affordable and predictable.”

The court order can be found here: http://nmpovertylaw.org/9-order-torres_2019_05_06/

The Torres v. Jacobson complaint can be found here: http://nmpovertylaw.org/torres-v-jacobson-first-amended-complaint-with-exhibits/