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.

Medicaid buy-in could be a reality in New Mexico

by Mandisa Routheni

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

New Mexicans can now more easily access identification cards

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Marina Candace Butler

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Celebrating our Summer 2018 Legal Interns

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

Yarrow Allaire

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

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

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

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

Erika Avila Stephanz

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

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

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

Verenice Peregrino Pompa

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

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

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