Pursuing child support no longer required to qualify for child care assistance

Barriers finally removed after years of advocacy

ALBUQUERQUE—Many more families now qualify for New Mexico’s Child Care Assistance Program after the elimination of multiple unnecessary eligibility requirements. The program provides help with the costs of child care for parents and guardians who are working or in school. The Early Childhood Education and Care Department released the new rules, which became effective yesterday, after workers and worker’s rights groups lobbied New Mexico agencies for years to eliminate barriers to the program. 

Notably, the new rules no longer force parents to pursue child support from the child’s other parent in order to qualify for assistance. Most parents, faced with fruitlessly antagonizing coparents—who sometimes were their former abusers—choose to simply forgo much needed childcare along with employment and work opportunities. 

Twenty-seven states, including Arizona, have already eliminated this requirement because it is burdensome for families, costly to administer, and is not in the best interests of the parent and child.

 “I am happy to see the Early Childhood Education and Care Department take concerns of New Mexico parents so seriously,” said Karina Pizaro who is a member of OLÉ. “These regulation changes mean that so many more families are going to be able to apply for childcare and not be left with the extra struggles on top of having to take care of their family.”

Other changes to New Mexico’s Child Care Assistance Program that make child care assistance more accessible include:

  • Parents can now submit applications electronically instead of only in-person. 
  • Other forms of assistance, like TANF, child support, and unemployment no longer count as income in the application.
  • Graduate school now satisfies the education requirement. 
  • Waiving copays during health emergencies.
  • Parents already participating in the program can now communicate changes in child care needs to ECECD by phone. 
  • Parents will no longer be subject to a mid-year recertification process or investigated for overpayment unless there is substantiated fraud.

“Before the pandemic, I would have to take time off of work to go in person to the office to apply for childcare assistance, go back multiple times if I was missing paperwork, and lose wages in the process. It’s amazing that families can apply for childcare assistance safely without having to expose their family to potential Covid-19 risks and without the potential of losing wages, “ said Karina Pizarro, parent and child care teacher with OLÉ.

“One of the best ways to help hard-working parents keep their jobs and stay in school is by providing help with the exorbitant costs of child care,” said Tim Davis with the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty. “ECECD’s new rules make it possible for more low-income parents to work or go to school while providing their children with a safe place to learn and grow. We hope other state agencies will follow its example and take a look at how they can remove barriers to participation.  We thank Secretary Groginsky for her leadership and collaborative efforts with the community.”

Summer Law Clerkship

The New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty (NMCLP) Summer Law Clerkship is a paid 10-week,  full-time summer position working to advance economic and social justice for an outstanding first or second-year law student. The Law Clerk will receive a $6,000 stipend and will work closely with  NMCLP attorneys in one or more of our areas of work doing legal research, drafting pleadings and  advocacy materials, and performing issue analysis, investigation, and outreach to partner  organizations and community members. The NMCLP Law Clerk will work with one or more of the  teams: Healthcare, Public Benefits, Education, Economic Equity. Please visit our website for more  information about our work at www.nmpovertylaw.org. 

Application Deadline: March 1, 2021 

To apply, please email a cover letter, resume, short writing sample, and law school transcript to  Felipe Guevara at contact@nmpovertylaw.org. Enter in the Subject Heading: “NMCLP Summer Law  Clerkship”. If you have a particular interest in one of the areas listed above, let us know about it in  your cover letter.

Court blocks attempt to end lawsuit on food and Medicaid assistance


LAS CRUCES—A federal district judge ruled today that the New Mexico Human Services Department must continue to comply with a court order requiring it to fix systemic problems with processing Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and Medicaid applications. 

Judge Kenneth John Gonzales wrote in his order, “New Mexicans, now more than ever, rely on the timely and accurate processing of SNAP and Medicaid applications to obtain much needed help.” 

“This pandemic continues to ravage families’ health and their ability to work,” said Teague Gonzalez, director of Public Benefits at the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty, which is representing the plaintiffs in the case. “It’s crucial that HSD comply with the law and remove unnecessary barriers to food and healthcare assistance.”

The long-running Hatten-Gonzales lawsuit was originally filed in 1989. While some progress has been made, the court requires a case review to determine if HSD has addressed entrenched problems in administering food and medical assistance. 

In 2016, HSD whistleblowers testified that there was a statewide policy of falsifying information on emergency benefits applications so the agency could pass federal audits and deadlines. This illegal policy resulted in thousands of New Mexican families going without the food assistance they needed.

In 2018, a case review found ongoing errors in the processing of food and medical assistance cases.

In its order, the court found HSD’s request to end the court’s oversight of fixes to the problems “premature” and “counterproductive” and “threatens to set back the progress the parties have made to this point.” 

The judge ordered a case file review of Medicaid and SNAP applications to continue and that parties engage in good faith negotiations. 

“We were surprised that the state’s counsel thought it appropriate to file this motion right now when so many New Mexicans have even more need for help,” said the Center’s Gonzalez. “We will continue our efforts to ensure New Mexicans can access food and healthcare assistance in close coordination with the court appointed Special Master and HSD.”

Judge Kenneth Gonzales’s order can be found here: http://nmpovertylaw.org/hatten-gonzales-v-scrase-order-staying-termination-of-consent-decree-2020-08-21/

The jointly developed corrective action plan can be found here: http://nmpovertylaw.org/hatten-gonzales-v-scrace-joint-motion-to-approve-two-corrective-action-plans-2019-07-10/

COVID-19 testing and treatment incident documentation

The current public health emergency has exposed barriers to healthcare that many immigrant communities encounter. Together we can inform our state officials and agencies about the problems and concerns that communities face when they seek COVID-19 testing and treatment.

Please help us document any problems and concerns to present to the Human Services Department, the Department of Health, and the Governor’s office. The information gathered will surface systemic issues that can inform our advocacy during the COVID-19 crisis. It can also help us identify systemic issues for work toward healthcare justice beyond the crisis: to make healthcare affordable and accessible for all of our communities. 

Personal information will remain confidential and will not be shared with government agencies.

Use this English form or this Spanish form to record problems, issues, barriers, and concerns that our immigrant community members face when seeking COVID-19 testing and treatment. You can also email or call the NM Dream Team and the NM Center on Law & Poverty to add to or in place of using the form. 

Personal information will remain confidential and will not be shared with government agencies.

In the form, please record:

  • any fees for testing or treatment
  • information requested in order to receive these services
  • lack of interpretation in your language
  • any denial of treatment
  • other issues or concerns 

Please contact us with any questions.

Felipe Rodriguez, Campaign Manager
NM Dream Team felipe@nmdreamteam.org (505) 210-2966

Fernanda Banda, Team Advocacy Lead
NM Dream Team ferbanda65@gmail.com

Verenice Peregrino Pompa, Attorney
NM Center on Law & Poverty verenice@nmpovertylaw.org (505) 225-1714

Alex Williams, Analyst
NM Center on Law & Poverty alex@nmpovertylaw.org (505) 226-3856

Molly Graver, Director of Healthcare
NM Center on Law & Poverty molly@nmpovertylaw.org

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

Paid sick leave, halting evictions & benefits terminations necessary to mitigate COVID-19 impact on New Mexicans

Groups provide state leaders multiple strategies to protect New Mexico’s residents

ALBUQUERQUE—Advocacy groups from across the state urged New Mexico’s leaders to exercise their emergency powers and provide emergency assistance, access to healthcare, and other relief to stem the rising financial insecurity and income inequality caused by the coronavirus crises. 

The recommendations were sent to Governor Lujan Grisham, Attorney General Balderas, Chief Justice Nakamura, Speaker Egolf, Senator Papen, Mayor Keller, Mayor Webber, Mayor Hull, and Mayor Miyagishima. 

“Our state’s response must focus on and involve the communities already experiencing the impact of economic inequality,” states the letter sent by the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty, Forward Together, Strong Families New Mexico, Lutheran Advocacy Ministry – New Mexico, New Mexico Coalition to End Homelessness, New Mexico Voices for Children, NM Comunidades en Acción y de Fé – CAFé, Health Action New Mexico, United South Broadway, Fair Lending Center, Southwest Organizing Project (SWOP), Catholic Charities – Archdiocese of Santa Fe, New Mexico Social Justice Equity Institute, McKinley Co. Assn. of Retired Educators, and multiple individuals.

Recommendations include:

Protect workers 

  • Enact emergency paid sick leave and pass local paid sick leave ordinances that guarantee paid sick leave for all workers. 
  • Eliminate the one-week delay in unemployment benefits. 

Ensure economic security 

  • Create a new emergency income assistance program. 
  • Stay wage garnishments and bank levies in the courts. 
  • Streamline access to Medicaid, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and cash assistance for workers who have lost their jobs by allowing enrollment when filing for unemployment insurance. 
  • Extend eligibility, suspend work requirements and sanctions, and delay all public benefits recertification requirements. 

Healthcare for all 

  • Provide for immediate access to healthcare through Medicaid for all Medicaid applicants.  
  • Assure immigrant communities that screening and treatment for COVID-19 do not impact public charge determinations and will not have immigration consequences. 
  • Ensure hospitals and clinics are safe spaces regardless of immigration status.  
  • Require employers maintain health insurance benefits regardless of reduction of work hours resulting from the pandemic. 
  • Call for a federal amendment to the Medicaid statutes to add a state option extending coverage to the uninsured for all medical services in connection with COVID-19. 

Moratorium on evictions, foreclosures, towing, and utility shut offs 

  • Stay all court eviction and foreclosure proceedings statewide to slow the spread of COVID-19 and prevent an increase in homelessness in New Mexico.   
  • Create a rent relief fund to help impacted families. 
  • Stop all utility shut offs. 
  • Place a moratorium on towing vehicles. 

Include all New Mexicans in the response to this crisis 

  • Protect New Mexicans without homes by providing emergency resources to shelters and on-location medical care.
  • Local governments should affirm their institutional commitment to all immigrant community members who may be targets of xenophobic behavior. 
  • Reduce the number of people in custody and release nonviolent defendants and people serving sentences for nonviolent offenses. 

The groups commend government officials and state leaders for the expedient initial steps already taken to mitigate the harm New Mexicans are facing. However, the groups maintain that much remains to be done without delay to protect the wellbeing of all New Mexico’s families.  

The full recommendations can be found here: http://nmpovertylaw.org/strategies-to-mitigate-covid-19-impact-on-nm-2020-03-18/

Report shows gaps in New Mexico’s early childhood agenda

ALBUQUERQUE—According to a new report, more investment in home visiting, child care assistance, cash assistance, and minimum wage enforcement would significantly improve New Mexico families’ stability and economic outlook. The report, “New Mexico’s Infant Toddler Agenda,” was authored by the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty and the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP).

“Every child should have the opportunity to succeed in life, yet nearly a third of New Mexico’s 70,000 infants and toddlers live in poverty. Across the board, state investments are too low in programs that address economic barriers and support opportunities for families with young children,” said Sovereign Hager, legal director at NMCLP. “Every family should have safe and affordable child care, sound parental support, and resources to pay for necessities. But there are huge gaps between what programs work for families and what our state funds.” 

Children’s growth and development are shaped by early life experiences. Good health, empowered families, and positive early learning environments foster children’s physical, intellectual, and social-emotional development. Culturally and linguistically appropriate programs and policies that are developed in collaboration with local communities are also essential to their success. 

Home visiting empowers parents 

In New Mexico, home visiting services provide support, coaching, and resources for parents from trained professionals during pregnancy and in children’s earliest years. Home visiting improves children’s mental and physical health, supports school readiness, and helps keep children and families safe. 

However, the report notes the lack of home visiting programs in New Mexico and that few programs are culturally and linguistically relevant to the state’s diverse communities. In New Mexico, an estimated 157,600 children—half of whom are infants and toddlers—were eligible for home visiting programs in 2017 but only approximately 5,000 slots were available in 2018. 

The report recommends that New Mexico fully leverage Medicaid dollars for home visiting and expand its current pilot program to include all Medicaid-eligible families.

Child care assistance provides high-quality child care and early education opportunities

The state’s Child Care Assistance Program makes it possible for low-income parents to work or go to school while providing their children with a safe place to learn and grow. The report notes that when families have access to child care assistance, they are better able to access high quality child care and have more resources for basic needs. They also have far fewer child care related work disruptions.

Unfortunately, even after increases to the program’s budget this year, the vast majority of families in New Mexico face high out of pocket costs even when they get assistance. Eighty one percent of families who receive child care assistance in New Mexico had to pay a share of costs in 2017 compared to the national rate of 62%.

Data shows that too many families simply cannot afford to participate in the program. Enrollment falls for families earning between 25% and 50% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines—when New Mexico starts imposing unaffordable co-payments.

The report recommends New Mexico eliminate co-payments for families living below 100% FPG and cap out of pocket costs at affordable levels for other families.

Families also face a steep “cliff effect” when their incomes exceed the eligibility threshold for the program. In many cases, this leaves families much worse off than they were before an increase in wages.

In New Mexico, families can earn a maximum of 250% of the FPG (equivalent to $53,325 for a family of three in FY 2019) before becoming ineligible for assistance. The report recommends tiered eligibility policies to smooth the cliff effect by gradually reducing assistance as income rises.

Increasing and enforcing the minimum wage supports economically stable families 

New Mexico’s minimum wage increase went into effect in January 2020. The report notes that an estimated 100,600 children will be helped by their parents’ increased wages.

However, workers can’t benefit from a minimum wage increase if the law isn’t enforced. Too many New Mexico workers are paid less than the minimum wage because employers violate the law. The New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions has a statutory obligation to enforce the law, but DWS is underfunded and overwhelmed by a backlog of over 1,800 wage complaints. One in five workers has been waiting for their case to be investigated or to be paid wages owed for over a year and a half. Some have been waiting as long as eight years. 

The report recommends the state strategically and robustly enforce the law to maximize benefits to workers and their families.

Improving cash assistance to support economically stable families

Increased income during early childhood is associated with improved health, better school performance, and even increased earnings later in a child’s life. Even a small amount of additional income can be a stabilizing force, allowing parents to purchase diapers, groceries, or other household necessities. 

Although many families with low incomes could benefit from cash assistance, which provides a temporary monthly benefit and work supports for parents, only a small percent in New Mexico qualify for help because of limited eligibility, ineffective work requirements, and time limits for children. 

The assistance itself is minimal and does not provide enough for families to live on while seeking employment. 

The report recommends New Mexico improve its cash assistance program by offering flexibility, exemptions from work requirements, and allowing children to receive benefits when parents become ineligible or reach time limits.

“Strong investments in programs that impact early childhood are proven to increase well being and economic opportunity for families, but too many of New Mexico’s families with infants and toddlers aren’t able to access programs that would help them the most,” said Hager. “Our state government has an obligation to fix this and must prioritize an agenda that focuses on opportunity for families with young children. This means adequate resources towards programs and services for families with young children, investment in culturally and linguistically relevant programming, and work across agencies to streamline and integrate eligibility and enrollment processes.”

“New Mexico’s Infant Toddler Agenda” can be found here: http://nmpovertylaw.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/CLASP_NewMexico_infants_brochure3.pdf

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.

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

LAS CRUCES—On Thursday at 10:00 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.

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.

In July of 2019, the court approved a jointly-developed corrective action plan to address systemic barriers to food and medical assistance. Thursday’s status conference will include updates from both parties and the Special Master on the status of HSD’s implementation of the plan.

WHAT:

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

WHEN:

Thursday, November 21, 2019 at 10:00 a.m.

WHERE:

United States Courthouse, 4th Floor, 420 Mimbres Courtroom (North Tower), 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

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 jointly developed corrective action plan can be found here: http://nmpovertylaw.org/hatten-gonzales-v-scrace-joint-motion-to-approve-two-corrective-action-plans-2019-07-10/

Medicaid Buy-in option already helping my family

Daisy Lira
This appeared in the Las Cruces Sun News on September 24, 2019.

I am a successful businesswoman, operating three child learning centers, and a Sunland Park City Councilor. I’m happily married, a devout Catholic and a mother of four. But until my husband started working for the City of El Paso a few weeks ago, I never had private health insurance. 

As a young, single mom, I had Medicaid. After I opened the centers and started making a small profit, they kicked us off. I thought that since I was finally making money I’d be OK. I was wrong. 

When it was absolutely necessary, I paid for doctor’s appointments out of pocket. Most of the time, I’d go to Juárez where a doctor’s visit was more affordable. Regular checkups for my kids were not an option. 

But there’s another option: Medicaid Buy-in. My fellow Sunland Park city councilors and I unanimously passed a resolution in support of it last year. The Legislature and Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham have been working to put it in place. It would allow families like mine to pay monthly premiums to buy-in to the trusted, affordable care that Medicaid has provided for more than 50 years. 

When I met my husband, we started looking for insurance. We wanted to have more children. Obamacare wasn’t affordable. I tried to offer healthcare to my employees and myself through my business. I told them how much the center could pay and how much they would have to pay for private group insurance, but no one could afford to be covered. We all went without. 

My husband and I were thrilled to have a son. We made too much to qualify for Medicaid and still couldn’t afford private insurance. I paid out-of-pocket for my son’s urgent care visits for recurring ear infections. It was horrible to see him in pain and to scrape together the money to help him. 

When I got pregnant again, I couldn’t find a gynecologist who would accept someone without insurance. I finally went for a checkup with a doctor in El Paso. I had no idea that within a week I would miscarry. I didn’t know what was happening. I went to an urgent care that sent me to another urgent care. They told me that my body would get rid of the pregnancy. I lost that pregnancy in pain, crying with my husband. 

When I got pregnant again a year later, I was determined to get the care I needed. To pay for prenatal care, I leveraged a piece of land we bought to build a house on. Thankfully, I had a healthy pregnancy and a healthy baby.

Now that my family has health insurance, I’ve been making all kinds of appointments for my kids. My daughter hasn’t been eating well and I take her to see a nutritionist. My son has two cysts in his stomach and I’m finally able to pay for his surgery. I even made a dentist appointment for myself. 

I’ve started speaking out about healthcare access. At 5 p.m. Wednesday, Sept.25, please join me for a screening of the film “The Providers” at the Doña Ana Community College Espina Campus, 3400 Espina St, Las Cruces, Rooms DASH 75 & 77. After the movie, there will be a discussion about healthcare in our communities. 

I’ve been waiting five years to build a home for my family on the land we bought, but doctor bills have kept that dream from happening. Maybe now that dream will come true. Maybe now, with the promise of Medicaid Buy-in families like mine won’t have to go without the care they need and deserve.

Daisy Lira is a Sunland Park city councilor.