Alisa Diehl joins the Education team

By Paloma Mexika

I spoke with New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty’s new senior education attorney, Alisa Diehl, about her experience working in social justice. Ms. Diehl has years of legal and advocacy experience. She attended law school at University of Iowa College of Law and received her undergraduate degree at Arizona State University. This interview has been edited and condensed.

What made you interested in social justice/advocacy work? 

I grew up aware of inequity and injustice. My parents protested in the 70’s against the Vietnam war because of racial violence. My dad was moved by the injustices of the government—because of the war itself and the response to protestors at the time. My dad also was committed to learning about the injustices faced by Indigenous people. 

These perspectives were ingrained in me from a young age. I feel I have a responsibility to have a role in fighting against it. 

What in your upbringing influenced your decision to be a lawyer?

My parents made sure that I grew up aware of my privilege and that my life was easier because of it. I felt a responsibility to fight for equity, justice, and accountability, and one way to do that is through policy and the law. The law can help effectuate change.

To do this work, it’s important to really listen and understand what others are thinking, feeling, or experiencing. I put great value on humility, relationship building, and communication and supporting the work of Black, Indigenous, and people of color. 

What is your proudest accomplishment in this work?

What sticks out most are the several-year-long clients I worked with that turned into meaningful relationships. Before coming to the Center, I worked at Legal Aid focusing on unemployment benefits, housing, and domestic abuse litigation. I did individual client work, which is a much different form of advocacy work. 

In one specific unemployment benefits case, I represented a woman from the administrative level through the Iowa Supreme Court, where we were finally successful in helping her obtain benefits. She’s a working mother, a survivor of domestic violence, and a woman of color in a very white state. We had a great legal outcome, but more importantly, we connected and built a friendship over the years. We grew trust, practiced patience, and went through several legal hoops together because I helped her with other legal issues that arose in her life as a domino effect during that time. We still stay in touch. 

The way her life was impacted by the circumstances that led to her unemployment benefits case  was so stark in a state where the racial disparity for incarcerated Black residents is among the worst in the country. The events that happened to her showed very clearly the systemic and institutional racial inequalities that function effortlessly together. 

Why did you want to join the Center’s education team? 

I am a product of public schools, as is my husband and family. Public education has always been personally important to me. Perhaps more importantly, I am connected to this issue as a parent myself, because everyone wants a good education for their children.

Our social and economic systems maintain racial inequities and discrimination. The public education system is perhaps the greatest example of this. At the same time, public education has the most potential to be the great equalizer IF it’s administered and funded fully and equitably. 

I am excited to be part of a multifaceted approach to education advocacy. I look forward to developing and maintaining community relationships as part of the Transform Education NM coalition and the Yazzie counsel. I’m eager to join the formidable advocacy efforts of generations of New Mexican parents, teachers, community organizations, and education experts. 

Melissa Candelaria joins Education team

By Maria Archuleta

I spoke with New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty’s new senior education attorney, Melissa Candelaria, about the roots of her work in social justice. Melissa has years of legal, policy, and advocacy experience. She serves as an Oversight Commissioner for the 19 Pueblos District and is a citizen of the Pueblo of San Felipe. Melissa has worked for the U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, and for federal and state agencies, as well as non-profit organizations. She attended law school at UNM and received her undergraduate degree at Dartmouth College. This interview has been edited and condensed.

How did your upbringing influence your work?

I was born and raised in San Felipe Pueblo. My grandfathers and grandmothers and parents instilled me with core values of giving back to the community with the skills and gifts we have been blessed with by the Creator. They taught us to be generous in spirit and to do our part to make this world more conscious, caring, and compassionate. 

As Native young people, we were encouraged to embrace all that makes us special and unique and to treasure our shared language, culture, and traditions. My community understood that a Western education would enable us to participate and influence the larger community outside of the Pueblo, and I also knew I wanted to go away for college. I have always been interested in seeing and learning new things. 

Dartmouth was definitely a culture shock. So many of my peers went to elite prep schools, and I graduated from Bernalillo High School. I found my own way and learned to trust myself as a capable person and to excel academically in a competitive environment. I knew that my background made me very unique in this setting and helped me to synthesize the best of both worlds. 

Were you always interested in shaking up the education system?

Actually, yes. My undergraduate degree is in sociology and I minored in education. In public school, I didn’t see a diversity of students or teachers, the curricula left out the history and culture of indigenous peoples, and there was no Native language instruction at all. 

In college, I thought I was going to open my own charter school. I was very much interested in systemic change and creating a paradigm shift in education. I knew education opportunities for children of color, including more Native teachers in the classroom, was a way to make those changes. 

When I came back from college, I started working at a Native American prep school that has since closed. But my path changed, and I was drawn to assist tribal governments more broadly and worked on health and social services, development, sovereignty, and intergovernmental relations, but I always had special focus on education. 

What made you decide to become a lawyer?

Everybody already thought I was a lawyer. 

I had been working on public policy issues with the tribes and knew that having a legal background and skills would allow me to be a more effective advocate. It helped me empower individuals and communities to be successful and thrive. It goes back to my core values of giving back and serving others unconditionally and unselfishly. 

Having a law degree also made it possible to be an advocate at the national level. It was exciting to work on national public policy like the Indian Healthcare Improvement Act that impacted all of Indian country. I also had the privilege of working on state legislation like the Indian Education Act, which if implemented with the Yazzie/Martinez case would positively transform and further revolutionize education opportunities for our Native students. 

What do you hope to accomplish next?   

I approach my work with my heart. There is so much that still needs to be addressed for Native people and communities of color. The challenge is huge, but we cannot be discouraged by the enormity of the challenge.

I’m excited to be at the Center and to push for equitable education for all children. They deserve the opportunity to succeed. I’m very fortunate to and honored to work with the social justice champions here. 

Trump cuts to food assistance violate sovereignty of Native American Nations

By Christy Chapman, Native American Budget and Policy Institute and Tim Davis, New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty

No one should go without access to food in the United States. However, in the middle of a global pandemic when thousands of people are losing their jobs everyday, the Trump administration continues to pursue cuts to food assistance for more than 27,255 New Mexicans and 755,000 low-income adults nationwide by limiting unemployed adults to just three months of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) food assistance in a three year period.  

There are 23 sovereign nations in the territorial boundaries of New Mexico whose communities will be harmed by this rule. Yet, the federal government failed to consult these sovereign nations, or any others, on the proposed rule that would disproportionately impact Native communities and disrespects the sovereignty of Native governments. 

The Native American Budget and Policy Institute and New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty argue in an amicus brief that as a result the rule is illegal and should be blocked. 

Federal law has long limited SNAP for unemployed adults without children. However, states have flexibility to request waivers for areas with high unemployment and, if unemployment was high state-wide, the whole state could be waived from the time limit. The new rule would limit this flexibility and make it more difficult to obtain waivers for areas of high unemployment including sovereign Native American nations.  

The rule would disproportionately impact several Native American communities, where historically, the unemployment rate can be greater than 50%. In small and rural communities, the only job opportunities may be in the education, health, or government sector. 

The Trump administration ignored written comments against the rule documenting the significant harm it would cause American Indian/Alaskan Native communities. This violates the trust responsibility between the federal government and Native American Nations created by treaties when these Nations ceded large portions of their aboriginal lands to the United States in return for the right to self-government with reserved lands. 

The colonial land seizures restricted access to food, income and agriculture caused widespread food insecurity that persists today. Historic and ongoing systemic inequalities cause many Native American communities to be without the infrastructure and economic development opportunities for adequate employment for all its members. 

A federal court has temporarily stopped the rule and could permanently block it. Congress should also stop the rule and has already suspended its implementation during the public health emergency. 

Pueblos, Tribes, and Nations are in the best position to determine public policy within their territorial boundaries and for their members. In this time of racial reckoning and as the COVID-19 crisis exposes long standing systemic inequalities in New Mexico, the federal government must fulfill its trust responsibility and fully recognize the sovereignty of Native American nations. Under no circumstances should the federal government take food assistance away from people who can’t find work.

The Case for Education Equity in New Mexico

Education is fundamental to our future, but our students don’t have equal opportunities in our school system—a reality aggravated by the COVID-19 crisis. Now more ever, we need to fight for the public schools New Mexico’s students need and deserve. 

A new video on the landmark Yazzie lawsuit makes it clear why we must transform our education system now.

The Case for Education Equity in New Mexico follows the personal story of parent turned education advocate Wilhelmina Yazzie. Her story is one of love and perseverance, culture and language, and the reality of how opportunity gaps harm New Mexico and its children. 

Every child deserves to graduate ready for college and career and to pursue their dreams. This was the reason Wilhelmina, along with other families and school districts across New Mexico, brought the lawsuit against the state for violating students’ constitutional right to a sufficient education.

The video is especially timely now. Last week, on behalf of the Yazzie plaintiffs, our legal team responded to the state’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit. The legal brief argued that court oversight is essential to protecting students’ constitutional right to an equitable education and that the state should be required to develop a comprehensive plan to overhaul the public education system as soon as possible.

There will be a hearing June 29 on the Yazzie plaintiffs’ and state’s motions.

Watch the video and share it with your networks and on social media these next few days and through the date of the hearing.

Facing this Emergency Together

Friends,

Protecting our families, loved ones and community is at the top of all our minds as we face this public health emergency together. The Covid-19 pandemic brings enormous challenges—practicing social distancing for our health and safety, while also responding to the economic consequences. As businesses close down, thousands of people are losing their jobs. More than 10,000 New Mexicans filed for unemployment benefits in just one week. 

This crisis exposes long-standing inequities for working families, and demands urgent action. It has made it abundantly clear that what we fight for—healthcare, housing, income and food support, childcare, workers’ rights, and educational opportunities—is fundamental to our communities.

The New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty sent recommendations to our state leaders calling for a united and comprehensive response. We have been circulating “know your rights” information and critical updates about actions being taken at the national and state levels to bring down healthcare costs, expand income assistance, and prevent evictions and utility shut offs. Please join us in sharing this information widely with your networks and on social media, and stay tuned for alerts about ways to get involved as we work with you and our community partners on solutions.

We thank our Governor and policymakers for their leadership. We know there is much more to do. We vow to stand with you as we face this together.

Sincerely,
Sireesha Manne

5 things you should know about the new public charge rule

By Teague González, director of Public Benefits

Changes to the “Public Charge” rule go into effect today. Some of the changes include allowing the government to deny permanent residency (green cards) and visa renewals to certain lawfully present immigrants who participate in basic need programs like Medicaid, SNAP food assistance, and housing assistance.

The Trump administration is counting on fear to harm immigrant families and turn lifesaving programs against families. But the new public charge rule change applies to very few immigrants. Get all the facts and always talk to someone to make the best choices for your family.

Here are 5 important things you need to know about public charge:

Number 1: The test does not apply to people who are already legal permanent residents — as long as they don’t leave the US for 6 consecutive months. 
Number 2: The rule does not apply to people who want to adjust from legal permanent resident to citizens. 
Number 3: It never applies to US citizen children. A US citizen child’s use of benefits is never counted against their parent no matter the parent’s immigration status. Please do not disenroll or cancel your US citizen children from Medicaid or Food Stamps without talking to someone first. 
Number 4: There are important exceptions to the public charge rule, for example, pregnant women may receive Medicaid during their pregnancies and up to 60 days after delivery and this will not be counted against them when they try to become legal permanent residents. The same goes for Medicaid use by children under 21 years of age who want to become legal permanent residents. 
Many categories of immigrants are exempt from the rule like T and U Visa holders, as are VAWA beneficiaries, and many other statuses. 
Number 5: Many government benefits are not included in the public charge rule like school breakfast and lunch, WIC, CHIP, unemployment benefits and many more. 

This is why it is very important that you talk with someone about the rule change before you make any decisions about canceling your benefits or your children’s benefits. 

Please call 505-255-2840 with any questions. Watch the video in English and Spanish. Get the handout in English or Spanish.

New ICWA Court aims to keep Native families together

By Cheryl Fairbanks, Director of Native American Budget and Policy Institute

I am overjoyed to share with you that the Second Judicial District Children’s Court in Bernalillo County launched a new court to address historic challenges related to compliance with the Indian Child Welfare Act, which was enacted in 1978. Our community has always known, and research shows, that Native children do much better when they stay with their families, extended families, and in their community. That’s why Congress passed ICWA—to help keep Native families together.

This desperately needed court, announced appropriately on Indigenous People’s Day, is meant to uphold the rights of children, families, and tribal communities in a culturally responsive way. It will be reviewing foster care, pre-adoptive, and adoptive placement cases for Native children.  

The Native American Budget and Policy Institute was honored to contribute to the creation of the new court, which was a collaboration of New Mexico’s tribal and state entities. Pegasus Legal Services for Children, New Mexico Kids Matter, Tribal-State Judicial Consortium, New Mexico Tribal Indian Children Welfare Consortium, Corinne Wolfe Center for Child and Family Justice, and the New Mexico Children, Youth and Families Department were also members of the planning team.

Strong families and communities are embedded in indigenous culture. The stronger our community, the healthier are our families and our children. But unfortunately, unnecessary separation of Native families has continued. 

History has shown that Native American children are placed in foster care at a much higher rate than non Indians, ignoring the value of family unification and healing. Even now, social workers often remove children from their homes before exhausting all familial and tribal opportunities for placement. Native families are four times more likely to have their children removed and placed in foster care than their white counterparts. And although progress has been made, out-of-home placements with non-Native homes still occur. 

Structural racism and institutional bias has had a deep impact on how New Mexico’s courts and institutions treat Native families and children both currently and historically. Our communities have been living a continual crisis of cultural annihilation through family separation. 

When Congress passed ICWA, it acknowledged the historic and systemic government policies, like boarding schools, foster care, and adoptions, meant to assimilate Native people and terminate our culture. ICWA was created to protect children’s best interest as well as their cultural heritage. Knowing who they are as tribal citizens and connecting to their families and tribal communities is in the best interest for Native children. ICWA reaffirms the inherent rights of tribal nations to protect their children.

It’s time we upheld and honored that law. ICWA protections are still needed.

In a truly historic moment, the new court helps acknowledge the political status of tribal children and the sovereignty of tribes and Pueblos communities by working government to government with a primary focus on the child and family and preserving culture and communal ties.

The court is led by Honorable Marie Ward, Presiding Judge and Honorable David Eisenberg, Chief Judge of Taos Pueblo Tribal Court. Honorable Catherine Begaye, Special Master, will be the presiding officer over the court. Cases will begin to be heard by January 2020.

Peacemaking Dispute Resolution, which stresses reconciliation over adversarial court processes, will be a culturally responsive option in the court.

The new court will become the sixth ICWA Court in the United States, joining Billings, Montana; Denver and Adams Counties in Colorado; Los Angeles, California; and Duluth, Minnesota.

Bernalillo County passes paid time off law!

By Stephanie Welch, supervising attorney for Workers’ Rights 

The Bernalillo County Board of Commissioners passed a new law on Tuesday that ensures hardworking people don’t have to choose between a paycheck and taking time off to care for themselves or a loved one.

Unfortunately, most workers making low wages have no paid sick leave. If they or a family member become ill, they have to choose between getting paid and getting better. Those who can least afford to lose any income are the most likely to have to face that choice. 

Starting next July, people working in the unincorporated areas of Bernalillo County will have the right to 24 hours of paid leave a year. The number of hours of leave will increase each year until it reaches 56 in 2022. The ordinance is clear, simple, and easy to implement. It is the result of years of advocacy by workers, parents, survivors of domestic violence, medical professionals, teachers, and caregivers.

Unfortunately the ordinance doesn’t address the great need for paid sick leave in the City of Albuquerque. 35% of workers in Albuquerque lack access to paid sick leave.

That is about 106,000 people who work and live in Albuquerque and who cannot take time off to get medical care, heal, escape an abusive situation, or care for a loved one without losing much-needed income and risking being fired.

This is not just a local problem, it’s a statewide problem. New Mexico has the highest percentage among U.S. states of workers without access to paid sick leave. Thankfully Bernalillo County officials are trying to do something about it. Now the city, and the state, should follow their lead.

Tipped workers like me deserve a raise, too

By Paloma Mexika, New Mexico Center On Law And Poverty Communications Associate
(This op-ed appeared in the Albuquerque Journal)

Every worker should be paid a livable wage, but the Albuquerque Journal would have you believe that servers will lose our entire livelihood if the minimum wage is raised. They paint a picture of restaurants without servers, and of diners ordering at counters, picking up their own food and drinks and busing their own tables.

Until very recently, I depended on tips for years. In addition to my base wage, my tips put me just above the poverty line and barely afforded me the cost of living in Albuquerque.

The minimum wage has not been changed in New Mexico for a decade, but a bill to increase it statewide is making its way through the Legislature. 

House Bill 31 would raise the minimum wage from $7.50 an hour to $12 by mid-2021 and tie further increases to inflation. It also adjusts the “tip credit” that allows employers to pay tipped employees $2.13 an hour as long as their tips bring them up to the minimum wage. HB 31 would make the tip credit 30 percent of the prevailing minimum wage.

The Journal claims that increasing the minimum wage and adjusting the tip credit will force restaurants to shut down or drastically reduce service. Really? Do opponents of the increase really advocate for a business model predicated on paying servers only $2.13 an hour out of business revenue? How do restaurants adjust when other fixed prices go up like gas, electricity, food or alcohol?

As seen in other states that have increased or removed the tip credit, the restaurant industry did not change and is healthy and expanding. When low-wage workers like myself are able to earn a livable income and have even a little bit of spending money and free time, we go out to eat and shop at mom-and-pop locally owned businesses. 

The higher wages go right back into our local economy, and as a generous tipper myself, I hope employers are paying a livable wage so that my tip is just extra for a job well done.

The Journal claims that going out to eat would suddenly become so drastically unattractive that the service industry as we know it would cease to exist if tipped employees are paid a livable wage. When 

Albuquerque increased tipped employees’ sub-minimum wage, it didn’t devastate the restaurant industry. Our tips didn’t change, and our paychecks were actually decent.

Raising the minimum wage is better for companies in the long run even if it means a slight adjustment at first. When employees earn a livable income, they don’t have to work multiple jobs, plus they have more time and energy to put into their work.

Even if there were a tradeoff in working a few less hours, I would be willing to adjust to it because at least I would know I and my counterparts throughout the state wouldn’t have to rely entirely on inconsistent tips.

No one should be expected to work for next to nothing. But oftentimes servers don’t have a choice. Shouldn’t employers share more of the responsibility to ensure everyone is paid at least the minimum?




Taking Medicaid Buy-In to the Legislature

By Abuko Estrada

Affordable healthcare coverage for all New Mexicans could soon be a reality. For the past year and a half, families across the state in the NM Together for Healthcare campaign have been talking to their communities and elected leaders about opening up Medicaid so that anyone could buy into it — even those who don’t qualify for Medicaid currently.

The vision could soon become a reality in the 2019 legislative session. Support is spreading among state policymakers for a Medicaid buy-in plan. Governor-elect Michelle Lujan Grisham has agreed it could be the most viable path towards healthcare coverage for all New Mexicans.

In New Mexico, over 180,000 residents remain uninsured despite coverage gains made under the Affordable Care Act. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, in 2016, 45 percent of adults said they lacked healthcare coverage due to high costs. Some are locked out of no-cost or subsidized coverage systems altogether. Others, whose incomes are just too high to qualify for Medicaid, still can’t afford coverage even with tax credits provided by the federal government.

A Medicaid buy-in option would take the healthcare coverage affordability issues head-on by leveraging Medicaid to offer individuals and families more affordable coverage than is available through the private marketplace.

With the help of the campaign, communities around the state have voiced their support for the state to provide such an option. The counties of McKinley, Bernalillo, and Doña Ana; the cities of Anthony, Sunland Park, and Albuquerque; and the All Pueblo Council of Governors passed resolutions supporting New Mexico’s exploration of a Medicaid buy-in plan.

Manatt Health Solutions, a policy and strategic advisory group, is helping the state determine the best path for such a plan through a two-phase study. The first phase, which wraps up this month, outlines the pros and cons of different Medicaid buy-in models. The second phase, which should be done by January, will look at the costs to consumers, the impact on hospitals and other healthcare providers, and the costs to the state budget from implementing one or two of the models.

Assuming the study shows a viable path for the Medicaid buy-in, the NM Together for Healthcare Coalition will work closely with legislators to develop legislation for the state to implement the plan as soon as 2020.

To follow Medicaid Buy-in’s progress in New Mexico, please sign up on the NM Together for Healthcare website. Please also call your local representative and senator to let them know you want them to pass Medicaid buy-in legislation during the 2019 legislative session.