Introducing NMCLP’s new #AskALawyer video series! In these very short pieces, our attorneys will be answering questions the community may have about healthcare, workers’ rights, food security, housing, and other topics. Check out our first few episodes linked below and subscribe to our Youtube channel and follow our social media to see more in the coming weeks. Please share with your friends!
Thousands of New Mexicans who qualify for food and medical assistance are illegally denied or delayed access to benefits because the state does not provide translation and interpretation services, charges a motion filed today by the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty on behalf of applicants for food and medical assistance in the lawsuit Deborah Hatten Gonzales v. David Scrase.
The motion asks the US District Court of New Mexico to order the New Mexico’s Human Services Department to comply with federal and court ordered requirements to translate food and medical assistance applications, notices, and informational materials into languages prominently spoken in New Mexico’s communities.
Many New Mexicans speak languages other than English in numbers that require translation of food and medical assistance applications and documents under federal laws, including Vietnamese, Chinese, Dari, Arabic, Swahili, Kinyarwanda, and Diné. However, the state only provides written documents in English and Spanish.
Advocates and applicants in the lawsuit report experiencing long delays and barriers in accessing food and medical care, which was especially difficult during the pandemic. Some lost food assistance multiple times because the notice about renewing benefits is only in English. Others reported having to pay private interpreters, despite having no income and having to deal with unnecessary in person contact during the public health emergency.
An HSD office turned away Cuc T. Nguyen, a mother of a 13-year-old son, when she tried to apply for Medicaid because applications were in English only and the worker did not provide a Vietnamese interpreter. HSD staff illegally told her to come back with her own interpreter although by federal law HSD is required to provide applications in Vietnamese and access to an interpreter.
Community-based organizations that work directly with New Mexicans that speak languages other than English or Spanish, like the New Mexico Asian Family Center and the Refugee Well-being Project, report having to divert limited resources to provide translation and interpretation services that are the state’s responsibility under federal law.
To help families who could not apply for or renew benefits on their own due to language barriers, the New Mexico Asian Family Center has taken on additional clients and diverted resources meant to assist survivors of domestic violence during the pandemic.
“Everyone who qualifies should be able to access state services regardless of the language they speak,” said AnhDao Bui of the New Mexico Asian Families Center. “Excluding some people because they don’t speak English exacerbates health and economic disparities. This kind of discrimination is not new. Lack of translation is part of a systemic problem that ignores the existence of Asians in New Mexico.”
HSD’s continued discrimination violates families’ civil rights and illegally forces New Mexicans to go without food and medical care. The motion charges that despite repeated attempts since 2009 to bring these issues to the New Mexico Human Service Department’s attention, in April 2021, HSD refused again to take further action to comply.
“It’s unacceptable that HSD continues to discriminate against people by failing to translate documents with full knowledge that families are being harmed as a consequence,” said Verenice Peregrino Pompa, attorney with the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty. “Now more than ever, HSD should be working with community members and plaintiffs in this case to resolve ongoing barriers to food and healthcare.”
The long-running Hatten-Gonzales lawsuit was originally filed in 1989. In 2016, the court held former HSD Secretary Brent Earnest in contempt for failing to remove systemic barriers to assistance for eligible families applying for food and Medicaid assistance and appointed a Special Master to monitor and make recommendations to the department. While HSD has made some progress, the court recently ordered HSD to implement a corrective action plan.
The exhibits can be found here: http://nmpovertylaw.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/10/Doc.-1011_-Exhibits-to-Motion-to-Enforce-2021-10-05.pdf
The September 2021 order for HSD to implement a corrective action plan can be found here: http://nmpovertylaw.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/10/Doc.-1009-Order-Re-Case-Review-CAP-2021-09-09.pdf
NMCLP welcomed four law students this summer – Cheyenne Trujillo, Christian White, Kelly Reeves, and Rebekah Peoble. Sharing a passion for justice and a strong commitment to our communities, they worked on key issues of education, workers’ rights, income security and housing protections. We extend our gratitude to them for joining us in movement with our communities. They inspired us with their work and advocacy!
Cheyenne Trujillo worked with our Public Benefits team this summer breaking down illegal barriers to basic necessities. She was excited to be able to put her commitment to dismantling systems of inequity into practice. Her work at NMCLP included drafting a civil rights lawsuit against the US Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Services for illegally denying a Violence Against Women Act self-petitioner’s food and healthcare benefits, and failing to provide Spanish-language interpretation. Cheyenne also tracked USDA denials of SNAP and Medicaid benefits for immigrants with humanitarian statuses such as asylum applicants and Special Immigrant Juveniles.
Cheyenne looks forward to continuing to fight for social justice through public interest law. She is also interested in pursuing advocacy in government, environmental, and natural resource law. Before coming to NMCLP she worked for the New Mexico Land Grant Council.
Cheyenne is currently part of the Arturo Jaramillo Program at the University of New Mexico School of Law which promotes opportunities for minorities in the legal profession and encourages their participation in bar programs and activities. She has a BA in criminology and political science, a minor in Chicana studies, and a MA in public administration from the University of New Mexico. She will be graduating from the UNM School of Law in 2023.
Rebekah Peoble joined our Economic Equity team this summer working to keep as many New Mexicans as possible housed and combating harsh debt-related, court-imposed driver restrictions. Rebekah researched and drafted memos about anti-discrimination protections in state and local housing law and illegal fines charged by property managers in mobile home parks. She also worked on an extensive review and analysis of magistrate court cases in which judges suspended defendants’ drivers’ licenses as a counterproductive means of coercing debt payments for unpaid parking tickets and other court fines and fees.
Rebekah is the daughter of an immigrant mother. Her experiences and understanding of the disparities of race, class, language barriers, and socioeconomic factors motivated Rebekah to pursue a law degree to improve the lives of children and families by advocating for legal reforms that support New Mexico families and promote social justice.
Rebekah is a recipient of the Child and Family Justice Scholarship for dedicated students who are interested in transformative advocacy to pursue racial equity and well-being for children and families in New Mexico. Rebekah served on the executive board of the Student Bar Association. She has a BA in psychology and political science from New Mexico Highlands University. She will graduate from the UNM School of Law in 2023.
Christian White (Santo Domingo Pueblo and Navajo)
Christian White assisted the Education team in holding the state accountable to its legal obligation to overhaul New Mexico’s public education system so it supports the needs of all students. He worked on the Yazzie/Martinez case with a focus on Native American students and culturally relevant curriculum as well as the Tribal Remedy Framework—a comprehensive plan for meeting the educational needs of Native students created collectively by Tribal community members and Indigenous education experts.
Christian’s interest in working with Native American communities began as a youth when he was learning about policy and his people’s history. He has worked in various capacities within Native education and organizing in his community.
Christian White received a B.A. in political science and Indigenous studies from Columbia University. He also has an M.A. in American Studies, with a focus on Critical Indigenous Studies from the University of New Mexico. He will graduate from the UNM School of Law in 2023.
Kelly worked with the Workers’ Rights team on combating payroll fraud, challenging the exclusion of workers paid by the piece from the minimum wage, and supporting workers who experienced hardships with unemployment insurance during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Kelly began her career in social justice as a caseworker at a refugee resettlement agency in Indianapolis, Indiana. She worked with newly arrived families resettling in the state to ensure they had access to programs and resources upon arrival, and worked with the youth program to make Indianapolis more welcoming to newly arrived kids. She also served in the Peace Corps in Jamaica and Guyana where she taught literacy classes to grades three, four and eight, and supported the community’s goal of income generation through eco sport tourism.
Kelly is a recipient of the Peggy Browning Fellowship for dedicated students who are interested in pursuing work in labor law and workers’ rights. She holds a B.A. in Liberal Arts from DePaul University where she studied journalism. She has a Master of Social Work degree with a concentration in sustainable development and global practice from the University of Denver. She will graduate from the University of Colorado School of Law in 2022.
The New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty seeks a highly organized and effective Paralegal to advance our advocacy and litigation.
NMCLP is a nationally recognized non-profit law firm that engages in impact litigation and policy advocacy to advance the health, economic, and educational wellbeing of New Mexico’s families. We provide advocacy and representation through the courts, the legislature and administrative agencies, community education, and media. To learn more about NMCLP, please visit our website at www.nmpovertylaw.org.
- Communicates with clients
- Conducts factual investigations such as obtaining documents, photographs and other evidence.
- Performs legal research and conducts necessary interviews.
- Edits, proofs, and files pleadings and other legal documents.
- Organizes, analyzes, summarizes, and indexes documents.
- Prepares charts, tables, and other demonstrative evidence.
- Investigates and develops cases and projects.
- Strong commitment to advancing economic, racial, and social justice
- High level of proficiency in verbal and written communication
- Excellent research and analytic skills
- Self-motivated and dependable
- College degree with paralegal certification or equivalent experience
- Preferred: Spanish proficiency.
- Part-time position, 15-20 hours per week.
- Hybrid in-office and remote work position.
- Salary is commensurate with experience.
Apply in confidence by emailing a resume and cover letter to firstname.lastname@example.org. We are an equal opportunity employer committed to a healthy, collaborative and inclusive work environment for a diverse staff. We strongly encourage applications from Black, Native, and indigenous people, people of color, immigrants, LGBTQ+, and New Mexicans and individuals of multiple backgrounds and identities.
In 2021, the New Mexico Legislature passed the Patients’ Debt Collection Protection Act. Rules are still needed to implement the law, but the proposed rules are currently missing key protections for patients. This is a critical moment for the public to weigh in.
The new law:
- Prohibits medical providers and creditors from suing low-income patients or sending them to collections over medical debt.
- Requires hospitals, urgent care centers, and other healthcare facilities to check if uninsured patients qualify for public programs like Medicaid and to help them enroll.
- Requires the Office of Superintendent of Insurance (OSI) to issue rules explaining how patients show they qualify for the law’s protections.
Tell OSI that basic protections must be in the rules!
OSI’s proposed rules include several strong provisions. However, to ensure the law actually protects patients from debt, key revisions are needed. These include:
(1) Requiring medical providers and creditors to determine if a patient is low income before suing or sending them to collections. OSI’s proposed rules do not require medical providers or creditors to check a patient’s income before suing or sending a patient to collections.
(2) The protection for low-income patients should not expire after one year. Patients who have shown that they are low income should not have to submit paperwork annually to be protected from lawsuits and being sent to collections for a medical bill. OSI’s proposed rules let this protection expire after one year, which would be burdensome for families and medical providers and leave patients whom the Legislature protected at risk.
How to make your voice heard:
- Submit written comments with subject line “RE: SB71 Proposed Rules”by September 27 at 4:00 p.m.
- By email to OSIemail@example.com
- By mail to OSI Records & Docketing, NM Office of Superintendent of Insurance, P.O. Box 1689, Santa Fe, NM 87504-1689
- Speak at a virtual public hearing on September 27, 2021 at 9:00 am. How to join:
- By Zoom: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/83654595694 Meeting ID: 836 5459 5694
- By Telephone: 1-312-626-6799 Meeting ID: 836 5459 5694
We are pleased to announce that the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty is moving! Thanks to the many advocacy allies, donors, and community members who have supported our growth over the past 25 years, we are now setting down roots in east downtown, near the intersection of Broadway Blvd and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Ave. Come visit us in our new space starting September 1, 2021.
Our new address is:
301 Edith Blvd NE
Albuquerque, NM 87102
Our phone number and website will remain the same. You can still contact us at (505)-255-2840 or visit us online at www.nmpovertylaw.org.
We look forward to welcoming you soon!
The pandemic and economic crisis have created financial hardships for many New Mexicans. Many families have had difficulty accessing the financial resources available to help meet basic needs. In response, we have created the Financial Resource Guide During COVID-19.
The guide is a comprehensive source of information about assistance—and New Mexicans’ rights to access it—available across the state now and in the future.
The guide includes information about programs funded through federal legislation like the American Recovery Plan Act, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, as well as long-standing state and local programs that can help families with food, housing, healthcare, child care, and more.
Access the resource guide here: http://nmpovertylaw.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/07/NMCLP-COVID-Guide.pdf
Expect the Spanish language version soon!
By Wilhelmina Yazzie
Wilhelmina Yazzie (Diné) is the inaugural recipient of the National Education Association’s Wilma Mankiller Memorial Award. It is one of 11 NEA Human and Civil Rights awards, the organization’s highest and most prestigious awards, honoring exemplary individuals and organizations in education work. Ms. Yazzie lives in Gallup, New Mexico and is the parent of three children. She is a named plaintiff in the landmark education lawsuit, Yazzie/Martinez v. State of New Mexico.
My mother and grandmother’s teachings are my greatest motivators in life. They taught me that in our Diné culture, children are sacred and it’s our responsibility to prepare them for “iina’,” what we call “life” in Navajo. My grandmother raised me to be proud of my culture, where I’m from and who I am. My late mother, an educator for 30 years, taught me to do what I could for all of the children in our community, not just my own.
That’s why it’s so meaningful to me and such an honor to be chosen as the first recipient of the National Education Association’s Wilma Mankiller Memorial Award. She fought for equal rights for Native American people and is one of the most influential Indigenous leaders of our time. Her work toward equity in schools is a huge inspiration. She is someone who has done such impactful work for our people. She left a great legacy to follow.
For a long time, I have been concerned that my children, and all children, were not getting the education they need. They weren’t even getting the basics, much less a culturally relevant education. They still aren’t.
When we go to school our background and culture isn’t included or represented, there’s a sense of confusion. The same pattern of not being accepted and feeling like we don’t belong in the public school system has been repeated for generations. These are the relics from the boarding and residential schools and the forced assimilation era that we’re still fighting today.
I didn’t think anyone would listen to my concerns about education. Then I learned that New Mexico’s children have a constitutional right to a sufficient education and that there are protections for students who are Native American, Hispanic, English Language Learners, low-income, and children with disabilities. I joined the Yazzie v. State of New Mexico lawsuit, and I decided to speak out.
It’s been three years since we won, but we’re still not where we should be. Despite the legal victory and the years of work and building with other families and allies, we’re still fighting for an equitable education that meets the needs of all our children.
It’s time for our leaders to be courageous and make real changes for our kids. All across the country, people are standing up against the inequities caused by hundreds of years of systemic racism. It’s time for our state to stop fighting the lawsuit and instead address the inequities in our schools.
As we continue this work, I’m hopeful that all the attention that has been brought to this case and to our education system will lead to the state making the meaningful changes that our students need now and deserve.
I’m grateful and humbled beyond words to receive this award on behalf of the children—my own and all of the children across our state—and the other families and school districts who are part of this lawsuit and standing up on behalf of their communities.
Like my grandmother and mother would always say, “Our children are our future.” It’s our job to do right by them.
SANTA FE—First Judicial District Court Judge Matthew Wilson ordered the state to provide computers and high-speed internet access to the thousands of “at-risk” students who lack these necessary tools to access remote learning now and post pandemic. The ruling came during a hearing in the landmark Yazzie/Martinez education case on a Yazzie plaintiff motion addressing technology gaps among the state’s students.
At the hearing, Judge Wilson said, “The court ruled that defendants must comply with their duty to provide an adequate education and may not conserve financial resources at the expense of our constitution.”
Wilson added, “Children who are lacking access to internet and technology for remote learning are not getting much of an education, if at all, let alone one that is sufficient to make them college and career ready.”
“Lack of access has been catastrophic for far too many New Mexican families because of the state’s failure to address the technology gaps, especially for Native students and students living in rural areas,” said Preston Sanchez an attorney representing the Yazzie plaintiffs who argued the plaintiffs’ motion in court today. “Thousands of students are being denied their constitutionally required education sufficient to become college and career ready. Many are getting no education at all. The state has to be accountable to New Mexico’s students and families and make access to their education a priority.”
The court ordered the state to immediately:
- Determine which at-risk students and their teachers do not have a dedicated digital device and immediately provide one or ensure that one is provided to each of these students and their teachers.
- Determine which at-risk students do not have access to high-speed internet that will allow them to work from home and immediately provide them with access to a high-speed service and when necessary, transportation to access it.
- Provide school districts with funding for sufficient qualified IT staff to support and maintain digital devices, cellular hotspots, and community Wi-Fi locations, and other remote learning needs.
In 2018, in the Yazzie/Martinez v. State of New Mexico lawsuit, the court ordered the state to provide a sufficient education to all public school students. The state was required to immediately direct resources to remedy the failures in its education system, because the court recognized students—especially Native students, English language learners, students from low-income families, and students with disabilities—would be irreparably harmed if the state did not act swiftly.
The court noted that access to technology, including computers and related infrastructure, is essential to a sufficient education.
“This is a great day for New Mexico’s children,” said Melissa Candelaria, a senior attorney at the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty, which represents the Yazzie plaintiffs. “The judge’s ruling comes as a huge relief to so many families. Our children deserve a gold standard education but they cannot even participate in school without access to technology. Many students are not back at school and internet services are unavailable, especially in rural districts and districts serving predominantly Native American students. Even when students come back into the physical classroom, technology will continue to be a necessity.”
According to the PED, nearly 50 percent of public school students will continue remote learning for the remainder of the school year. Many Native American students will continue remote learning per tribal public health orders to keep their communities safe.
An estimated 23 percent of the New Mexico population lack broadband internet service. An estimated 80 percent of Native Americans living on tribal lands in New Mexico do not have internet services at all.
“There are far too many students in New Mexico who have not had access to education for an entire year,” said Alisa Diehl, a senior attorney with the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty. “It is simply unacceptable that the state allow them to continue to fall even further behind. The state needs to take action immediately to make sure New Mexico’s students get the education they need and deserve.”
A video on the difficulties New Mexico students have accessing education because of technology can be found here: https://youtu.be/H-i7JW7xKLg
The motion can be found here: http://nmpovertylaw.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/Yazzie-Tech-Motion-With-Exhibits-1-6-Final.2020-12-15.pdf
New exhibits from the Yazzie plaintiffs can be found here: http://nmpovertylaw.org/yazzie-notice-of-additional-exhibits-with-exhibits/
The final ruling in the lawsuit can be found here: http://nmpovertylaw.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/D-101-CV-2014-00793-Final-Judgment-and-Order-NCJ-1.pdf
ALBUQUERQUE—Today, the New Mexico Early Childhood Education and Care Department and several New Mexican parents and OLÉ—a non-profit, grassroots member organization of working families—announced that they have come to a settlement agreement that will expand access to the state’s child care assistance program and require it to be more responsive to parents’ needs. The parents and OLÉ are represented by the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty.
The settlement agreement resolves a 2018 lawsuit filed during the previous administration that alleged the New Mexico Children Youth and Families Department, which then housed child care assistance services, was denying child care assistance to eligible families.
CYFD and plaintiffs began the process of addressing the issues raised in the lawsuit and entered into an initial settlement agreement in spring 2019. After Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham and the New Mexico State Legislature created the Early Childhood Education and Care Department in 2019, the Child Care Services Bureau was consolidated along with all other early childhood programs into the new department. ECECD became the responding agency to the lawsuit following the department’s official launch in July 2020 and has committed to working with NMCLP and OLÉ to fully address the issues identified in families’ lawsuit.
“This settlement reflects the child care system that parents are building with Secretary Groginsky for all New Mexicans,” said Alma Martell, a parent leader from OLÉ. “It makes an early education more affordable to more parents and makes the process of getting state assistance to pay for preschool much easier, kinder, and more like what we expect of a high-quality early education system.”
“It’s clear that Secretary Groginsky and the department are committed to expanding access and making child care assistance work for New Mexican families,” said Tim Davis, an attorney at the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty. “The department has sought out and listened carefully to parents, and the improvements to the program reflect that collaboration and the reality of working families. The department has made changes that are truly groundbreaking and acknowledge that quality affordable child care is a bridge to opportunity for families and their children.”
“ECECD is committed to ensuring that every eligible family in New Mexico can receive child care assistance in a fair, equitable, and transparent manner,” said ECECD Secretary Elizabeth Groginsky. “Access to high quality early childhood education is critical to the development of our young children and vital to the economic stability of our families. In the nine months since our department officially launched, we have worked to change regulations to make it easier for families to apply for assistance, waived all parent co-pays until July 2022, and continue to seek ways to expand eligibility for child care assistance for families in our state.”
The terms outlined in the settlement agreement include:
- Maintaining eligibility for families with incomes at or below 250% of the federal poverty level unless the department reduces eligibility through a rulemaking process with public input.
- By August 2021, or sooner, ECECD will ensure that participating families know when and why a change is made to their child care assistance case. Notices will also clearly explain why child care assistance is denied or terminated and will provide information on how to appeal the decision. ECECD has already taken major steps to comply with this requirement.
- By December 31, 2021, ECECD will make the final updates to its child care assistance regulations so families receive correct information about their benefits during the application process, which will increase access to child care with minimal administrative burdens.
- ECECD will train all staff on the changes and the changes to the notices, which has already begun and will continue as ECECD fulfills its obligations under the settlement.
- For three years, ECECD will hold meetings with participating families and follow up meetings with the plaintiffs to discuss the feedback, and any potential remedial next steps.
- ECECD will not be required to pay any attorney fees, so long as it remains compliant with the terms of the settlement.
The settlement agreement builds upon other recent important changes that ECECD made to the child care assistance program that expand access, including giving benefits to parents looking for work, streamlining income determinations, increasing eligibility to families with incomes up to 250% of the federal poverty level, ending the exclusion of graduate students, and no longer forcing parents to pursue child support from an absent parent in order to qualify for assistance.
Currently one-in-three New Mexican families qualify for free or reduced child care tuition through ECECD’s child care assistance services. Families can learn about eligibility and apply for assistance at: https://eligibility.ececd.state.nm.us/eligibility/public/home.page?dswid=-4195
The settlement agreement can be found here: http://nmpovertylaw.org/torres-v-jacobson-proposed-second-amended-stipulated-order-2021-04-22/