Court orders state to identify languages spoken by families trying to access food and medical assistance

Ruling comes as HB 22, mandating state agencies plan for translation and interpretation services, works its way through Legislature.

ALBUQUERQUE—Last week, a federal court ordered the New Mexico Human Services Department to collect data on the languages spoken by New Mexicans served by the state’s food and medical assistance program and affirmed the agency’s legal obligation to translate documents based on the demographics of those served by local agency offices. 

“We are relieved and heartened by the judge’s order. Everyone, including those who speak languages other than English, deserves to have access to the resources intended to support them,” said Sachi Watase of the New Mexico Asian Families Center. “This kind of language discrimination is not new. Unfortunately, too many New Mexicans’ health and safety are predefined by these inequitable barriers. Lack of translation is part of a systemic problem that ignores the existence of Asians in New Mexico.”

The order gives HSD no more than 30 days to develop and begin conducting a 90-day survey and submit a report on the findings no later than 15 days after the survey is completed.

New Mexican families who speak languages other than English have reported barriers accessing food and medical assistance, which has been especially difficult during the pandemic. Some lost food assistance multiple times because notices about renewing benefits are 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. 

Despite repeated attempts since 2009 to bring these issues to HSD’s attention, the agency refused to address them. Applicants for food and medical assistance, represented by the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty, filed a motion in October 2021 in the Deborah Hatten Gonzales v. David Scrase lawsuit. US District Court Judge Kenneth Gonzales ruled on the motion last Friday. 

“Everyone should have access to state services, regardless of the language they speak. The court order requiring HSD to gather language data from families seeking benefits is an important first step toward providing meaningful access to state services for New Mexicans,” said Verenice Peregrino Pompa, attorney with the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty.

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, have to divert limited resources and take on additional clients to provide translation and interpretation services that are the state’s responsibility under federal and state law. 

Many New Mexicans speak languages other than English–including Vietnamese, Chinese, Dari, Arabic, Swahili, Kinyarwanda, and Diné. Many of these languages meet population thresholds that require translation of food and medical assistance applications and documents under federal law. However, the state only provides written documents in English and Spanish and oral interpreters are nearly impossible to reach without additional help. 

A bill, sponsored by Representatives Kay Bounkeua and Roybal Caballero and currently moving through the Legislature, could further help to rectify state agencies’ lack of adequate translation and interpretation. House Bill 22: Limited English Access To State Programs would require all state agencies with secretaries to perform a similar language use analysis and develop an agency language access plan. Last Friday, the same day the court order was issued, the bill passed the House Government, Elections and Indian Affairs Committee.

“A plan is critical so agencies can determine how to best provide the necessary translation and interpretation services that many New Mexicans need to access state services,” said Peregrino Pompa.

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.

The court order can be found here: https://cookieless-offload.s3.us-west-2.amazonaws.com/nmpovertylaw/Order-Language+Access-DHG-2022-01-21-compressed.pdf

The September 2021 order for HSD to implement a corrective action plan can be found here:  https://drive.google.com/file/d/1r-N6N8KCIk1sJDxxxywIY5Zz7dIeRf81/view?usp=sharing

Information on HB 22 can be found here: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1j6ZmNw7JHYZ3KoXzTwq-nU26SIQRUxeZ/view 

TOMORROW: Help ensure all New Mexicans can access state services in languages other than English!

HB 22: Limited English Access to State Programs is scheduled to be heard TOMORROW at 8:30 a.m. in the House State Government, Elections & Indian Affairs Committee. We need your help to get it passed!

Please join the virtual committee hearings tomorrow and provide public comment in support of the bill. A Zoom link will be available on the PDF calendar posted here

All New Mexicans deserve equal access to state services, regardless of the language they speak. New Mexico is home to thousands of people that primarily speak Spanish, Vietnamese, Chinese and Diné and other languages. Despite being required by law, many agencies do not provide information and services in languages New Mexicans understand. Lack of language services has delayed or prevented New Mexicans from applying for unemployment insurance, food assistance, and Medicaid prior to and during the pandemic and deepens economic and health disparities in our communities. 

HB 22 requires state agencies to develop plans to provide help in languages other than English, ensuring that more New Mexicans can access state services. You can share a personal story about why state agencies should provide interpretation or translation. You can also say something like this: “I urge senators to support HB 22. All New Mexicans should have access to state services. Coordinating and planning language services is a common sense step to address health and economic inequities in our state services.”

HB 22 summary

Language Access Analysis, Plan, and Annual Report will increase language access by requiring state agencies to: 

  • Collect data on the number of New Mexicans that primarily speak a language other than English and determine the resources needed to ensure meaningful access to services through translation and interpretation.
  • Develop and implement an annual plan to provide meaningful access to state programs for individuals who primarily speak languages other than English. 
  • Appropriates $50,000 to the Department of Finance and Administration for expenditure on state agency plans and linguistic data.
  • Submit the annual report to the governor and the Legislative Finance Committee.

Public comment instructions

When: 8:30 a.m., Friday, January 21, 2022

How: Click on the PDF calendar available here for a Zoom link. 

What to expect during the hearing: The committee will be taking public comment. The chair of the committee will announce the bill and ask who supports HB 22. At that time, to provide a comment use the Zoom reaction button and raise your hand. The Chair will call your name and unmute your zoom when it is your turn to speak.

Tips 

  • Keep your remarks brief and to the point.
  • If you have a personal story about how state agencies’ lack of interpretation or translation services has impacted you or your family, please share it.
  • Close the Legislature’s webcast page when you give your comment so there is not an echo during your remarks.
  • Make sure you are not muted when you start speaking.
  • Do not rely on your computer or phone for notes. Write them down or print them in case your computer screen freezes.
  • Close other tabs and windows in your browser to make sure your connection is good.
  • If your connection or microphone doesn’t work, be prepared to call in with the information above. 

Recipes

Green Chile stew – Feliz Baca

  • Meat of choice, I usually do chicken or pork 2lbs, cut up into cubes
  • 1 bag of roasted green chile, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon of garlic
  • half a chopped onion
  • 3-5 potatoes cubed
  • 1 can stewed tomatoes
  • 1 can corn
  • salt and pepper to taste

Cover meat with water and cook meat with salt, pepper, onion and garlic to make soup base and broth. Once cooked add the cubed potatoes, stew tomatoes, and chopped green chile. Once cooked through, finish off with the corn, and eat with tortillas or a fried egg and cheddar cheese on top!


Kale and Roasted Vegetable Soup – Laura Blum

  • 3 medium carrots, peeled and quartered lengthwise 
  • 2 large tomatoes, quartered 
  • 1 large onion, cut into 8 wedges or 4 or 5 slices 
  • 1/2 small butternut squash, peeled, seeded, cut lengthwise into 1/2 inch thick  wedges 
  • 6 garlic cloves 
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil 
  • 6 cups or more of vegetable broth 
  • 4 cups of finely chopped kale 
  • 3 large fresh thyme sprigs 
  • 1 bay leaf 
  • 1 15 oz can of Great Northern white beans, drained 
  1. Preheat oven to 400°F.
  2. Roast the carrots, tomatoes, onion, squash, garlic.  
  3. Rub rimmed baking sheet with a thin coat of olive oil. Place carrots, squash, tomatoes, onion, and garlic on the baking sheet and sprinkle with a little more olive oil and salt and pepper. Rub the oil over all of the vegetables so that they are well coated. 
  4. Roast vegetables about 45 minutes, stirring once or twice, until they are cooked through and nicely browned. 
  5. Further cut the squash and carrots 
  6. Remove the roasted squash and carrots from the pan to a cutting board. Cut into 1/2-inch pieces and set aside. 
  7. Purée the roasted garlic, tomatoes, onions 
  8. Remove the roasted garlic from their peelings and place in a food processor.  Add the roasted tomatoes and onions. Pulse in the processor until almost  smooth. 
  9. Deglaze the roasting pan
  10. Add a little water or broth to the baking sheet and scrape up any browned bits.
  11. Start soup with browned bits, broth, puréed vegetables 
  12. Add the browned bits, the broth, and the puréed vegetables to a large pot. Add  the chopped kale, thyme, and bay leaf to the pot. Heat on high to bring to a  boil, lower the heat to reduce to a simmer. Simmer uncovered until the kale is  tender, about 30 minutes. 
  13. Add roasted carrots, squash, beans 
  14. Add the roasted carrots and squash to the soup. Add the drained white beans  to the soup. Simmer for 8 to 10 minutes and add more broth or water to the  soup if it needs thinning. 
  15. Season with salt and pepper. Discard thyme sprigs and bay leaf.

Creamy Green Chile Chicken Casserole – Paloma Mexika

  • 2lbs chicken cooked and shredded
  • 2 cups of roasted green chile, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon of garlic
  • Broccoli crown, chopped
  • 2-3 cups cooked rice
  • 2 cans of cream based soup (cream of chicken, cream of mushroom, or cream of celery)
  • 1 cup of milk
  • 1 cup of chicken/vegetable broth
  • Onion, chopped
  • Jalapeño, chopped
  • Shredded cheese
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Cook chicken with water or broth, salt, pepper, onion, garlic and jalapeño. Cook rice. Shred cooked chicken. Combine cream based soup, milk, broth, salt and pepper, and chopped green chile in mixing bowl. Chop broccoli. In a casserole dish, layer cooked rice, shredded chicken, and broccoli bits. Smother with creamy green chile mixture. Top with shredded cheese. Bake, covered, at 350 degrees for 45 minutes. Uncover and bake for another 15 minutes or until the cheese is slightly crisped.


Caldito – Maria Griego

  • 1 tbsp. canola or other cooking oil
  • 2 medium Yukon Gold or red potatoes sliced or diced into bite sized pieces (can be peeled or not). 
  • 1/2  white or yellow onion, diced
  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 1-2 tbsp. flour
  • 1 tsp. garlic powder
  • 1 packet of au jus seasoning
  • 4-5 chopped green chiles (or one small container of Bueno or other frozen chile)
  • Water

1) Sautee potatoes and onions in a skillet with canola oil, then set aside in a bowl. 2) In the same pot the potatoes were cooked in, thoroughly cook the ground beef. 3) Once the beef is cooked, add in the flour, garlic powder and au jus packet mix.4) Add in the chopped chile. 5) Put the cooked potatoes back in the pot and add enough water to cover. 6) Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer for 15-20 minutes.
Best eaten with fresh tortillas!

New #AskALawyer video series

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!

Minimum wage (English)

Minimum wage (Spanish)

Public benefits updates

State illegally denies families food and medical assistance because it fails to provide translation and interpretation

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 motion can be found here: http://nmpovertylaw.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/10/Doc.-1011_Motion-to-Enforce-Translation-and-Interpretation-2021-10-05.pdf

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

Rising with our communities, the next generation of lawyering

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

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

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 Reeves

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. 

Action Alert: Protect New Mexicans from medical debt!

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 OSI-docketfiling@state.nm.us
    • 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:

New Mexico workers celebrate paid sick leave victory

SANTA FE, NM—After six years of organizing efforts, workers and advocates celebrate Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s signing of the Healthy Workplaces Act into law today. Effective July 1, 2022, workers statewide will be able to accrue one hour of paid leave for every 30 hours worked and up to 64 hours annually. 

The paid sick leave coalition thanks the sponsors of the bill, Reps. Angelica Rubio, Christine Chandler and Patricia Roybal Caballero and Sens. Mimi Stewart and Linda Lopez, for being true champions for New Mexico workers, and Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham for her support. 

Workers have been fighting for this legislation for years, sharing personal stories with lawmakers about being forced to go to work sick or risk losing their paycheck. As a result of this tireless work, paid sick leave is finally a reality and will benefit all of New Mexico’s families and communities. This big win illustrates how critical it is for legislators to hear from New Mexicans—the people who stock groceries, care for others’ children, harvest and serve food and keep our communities going throughout the pandemic. New Mexico workers showed up and made their voices heard. 

This statement is signed by the following: 

  • AARP NM
  • NM Comunidades en Acción y de Fe (CAFe)
  • Center for Civic Policy
  • El CENTRO de Igualdad y Derechos
  • Enlace Comunitario
  • Equality New Mexico
  • National Union of Hospital and Health Care Employees District 1199NM
  • New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty
  • New Mexico Working Families Party
  • New Mexico Voices for Children
  • OLÉ, Organizers in the Land of Enchantment
  • Somos un Pueblo Unido
  • United Food Workers of America Local 1564
  • Women Food & Agricultural Network

Statements from workers and organizations across New Mexico:

Carissa Owen, Restaurant worker and NM CAFe leader, (Las Cruces, NM)
“Paid sick leave is long overdue for New Mexico workers. I have seen restaurants fund expansions, marketing, or new concept rollout instead of investments in their biggest assets: their trained and dedicated workforce. This legislation is necessary for the restaurant industry to take employee health seriously.”

Rosa del Carpio, Worker and El Centro de Igualdad y Derechos member, (Albuquerque, NM)
“I have been working in Albuquerque for almost 15 years without access to paid sick leave. I tested positive for Covid-19 after having to risk going to work to put food on the table. I was worried about getting tested in the first place for fear that a positive test result would force me to quarantine without any income in order to survive. What I feared most as a single mother was infecting my nine-year-old son. Thousands of workers around New Mexico find themselves in situations similar to mine. Having access to paid sick leave is not only a racial justice issue: it will save the lives of workers and families in our communities.”

Marshall Martinez, Director of Equality New Mexico (Albuquerque, NM)
“Paid sick leave is critical for LGBTQ New Mexicans. Queer and Trans people work hourly jobs disproportionately and already face extreme systemic barriers to healthcare. HB 20 helps with one of those barriers and will help provide LGBTQ New Mexicans the opportunity to be able to afford the time off to see our healthcare providers.”

Stephanie Welch, Director of Workers’ Rights at the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty (Albuquerque, NM)
“No one should have to choose between a paycheck and protecting their and their loved ones’ health. Yet half of New Mexicans who work for private employers have to do exactly that because their employer does not provide paid sick leave. This law will ensure that workers get this basic right. We thank the workers from across the state who spoke out and advocated to legislators, and who won this victory.”

Anamaria Dahle, NM Working Families Party member, (Albuquerque, NM)
“Earning paid sick leave will allow me to obtain treatment to heal my injuries inflicted by my ex-husband over a decade ago. I will also be able to keep up with my doctors’ appointments for my autoimmune disease. So often, single parents’ health is put on the back burner. Thank you for passing HB 20.”

Iman Andrade, OLÉ member, (Albuquerque, NM)
“For me, winning paid sick leave means a safer workplace for me and my coworkers. This means people can actually stay home if they have COVID and not spread it to others. Workers need paid sick leave regardless if there is a pandemic. We can keep people safe from spreading colds and flus, especially in the restaurant and grocery industry. Our workforce is going to be much safer and I am so excited that HB 20 has passed the Senate.”

Bellanira Lozano, Somos Un Pueblo Unido member, (Santa Fe, NM)
“I am a single mother of four children and a domestic worker who takes care of elderly people in Santa Fe. The pandemic hit my family hard. We all got sick and didn’t get paid. This law means families like mine won’t have to decide between getting paid or going to work sick. It’s a tremendous victory for New Mexico’s workers.”

Oriana Sandoval, CEO of Center for Civic Policy, (Albuquerque, NM)
“Today we celebrate the passage of House Bill 20–a statewide Paid Sick Leave program for New Mexico workers. This legislation sends a clear message that families shouldn’t have to worry about shattering their family budget and getting buried under healthcare costs because they can’t afford to lose a day’s pay. We look forward to Gov. Michelle Luján Grisham signing this bold policy into law to take a step forward in ensuring New Mexicans have access to every resource they need to overcome the current pandemic and regain their stability–ensuring the success of our children and future generations.”

James Jimenez, Executive Director of New Mexico Voices for Children (Albuquerque, NM)
“Paid sick leave has long been a missing piece of the child well-being puzzle in New Mexico, with about half of our workforce lacking this basic benefit. The COVID-19 crisis has made this need even more critical, as families have suffered with the health impacts and the loss of job security and wages. The passage of this bill is a watershed moment for kids in our state and will go far in ensuring New Mexico parents and their families have the opportunity to live healthy lives and continue to contribute to a strong recovery. We applaud the Legislature for boldly rising to the greatest challenge of our time to secure this long-needed policy that will benefit the health and economy of our state.” 

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/

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/