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. ADVERTISING

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.

New Mexico must take action on health care

Cecelia Fred
This appeared in the Gallup Independent on September 3, 2019.

“Always take care of each other.” That was my parents’ advice to me and my brothers and sisters before we lost them both to cancer. We took that to heart. We are in close touch to this day.

I know that of the nine of us, though, my parents were likely most worried about who would take care of me after they were gone. I’m a paraplegic, the result of an accident with a gun when I was a little girl.

When I lost my parents, I didn’t realize how hard it would become for me to access health care.

Back then, specialists from Craig Hospital, a rehabilitation hospital in Denver that helps people with spinal cord injuries, came to New Mexico to take care of me and others in the community. Those doctors taught me about my body and my injury. They helped me understand how to care for myself. They held a Spinal Clinic on the Navajo Nation to check our kidneys and bladder, and make sure we were in good health.

That’s all changed over the years.

The specialists don’t come anymore. At the Gallup Indian Medical Center, the doctors and nurses are not spinal cord specialists and don’t know how to take care of us. When I was in the hospital, I couldn’t even move the bed and I had to ring the bell all the time. The staff got frustrated with me.

I’m also under a new plan through Medicaid and I’m struggling to figure out how it works. I don’t know what services are covered. And Indian Health Services doesn’t provide the supplies I need anymore. I have to pay for my catheters out-of-pocket.

My own doctor doesn’t really know how to take care of me; I have to tell her. At least she listens. When I told one doctor that I was developing a bladder infection, he didn’t believe me. “How do you know that? You’re a paraplegic. You don’t have feeling in that part of your body.” I know how my body and I deserve to be taken seriously and cared for. Getting health care should not have to be a fight. I have two sons. Like my parents, I worry about who will take care of my children when I’m gone. I’m not worried that they won’t take care of each other; I’m worried that the health care system won’t take care of them.

With the changes in access that I’ve seen and with the high cost to just see a doctor, I worry that my sons will have to choose between buying food and getting the care they might need.

That’s why I’m fighting for change. Yes, I go up to the Fourth Floor at the hospital and complain when I can’t get services or supplies. But the fight is bigger than that. New Mexico needs a health care system that works for everyone.

Through my advocacy work with New Mexico Together for Healthcare, I am supporting the effort to bring health care to every New Mexican. A promising option – Medicaid Buy-in – received start-up funding during the last Legislative Session. I’m excited to see Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and the Legislature taking steps to improve health care access and to reduce costs. Medicaid Buy-in would simplify the health care system and lower costs by allowing people who make too much for Medicaid and who can’t afford private insurance to pay for the quality, trusted care Medicaid has provided for more than 50 years.

But, really, I don’t care what new program is put in place – Medicaid Buy-in, a public option. No matter what you call it or how the details shake out, New Mexico must take action. We need a health care system that guarantees everyone access to the care they need and deserve.

My mom and dad were right. We all need to take care of each other. But it’s not just families that need to stick together. All New Mexicans need to stand together to build a health care system that works for us all.

Join me Wednesday, Sept. 4 at 5:30 pm at the Gallup Bingo Hall and share your story at the McKinley Townhall on Health care and Disabilities. Alice Liu McCoy, Executive Director of the New Mexico Developmental Disabilities Planning Council, will attend and share updates on where the state is headed and take questions.

Let’s raise our voices, tell our stories and work together to fix our health care system.

Cecelia Fred lives in Red Rock. She is a local health care advocate and an ambassador for the Christopher Reeve Foundation.

Bernalillo County Commission to Vote on Paid Sick Leave/Paid Time Off Ordinance

Bernalillo County– The Bernalillo County Commission will vote on a paid sick leave/paid time off ordinance Tuesday, August 20 at 4:00 p.m. in the Vincent E. Griego Chambers at One Civic Plaza. Supporters and advocates of paid sick days will be attending to share testimonies in support of having paid sick leave for hardworking families and urge commissioners to vote “Yes” to help build a thriving community and economy. 

WHAT: County Commission to Vote on Bernalillo County Paid Sick Leave Ordinance

WHEN: Tuesday, August 20, 2019 at 4:00 p.m.

WHERE: Vincent E. Griego Chambers, One Civic Plaza, Albuquerque, NM

WHO: Supporters and Advocates of paid sick leave

###

Supporters of the paid sick leave ordinance includes: AARP, Center for Civic Policy, El Centro de Igualdad y Derechos, Enlace Comunitario, Equality New Mexico, the New Mexico Center on Law & Poverty, New Mexico Voices for Children, New Mexico Working Families Party, OLÉ, Strong Families New Mexico, and the United Food & Commercial Workers.

Survivors of Domestic Violence to Hold Press Conference in Support of Paid Sick Leave Bill

Albuquerque, NM– Survivors of domestic violence and advocates for paid sick leave will hold a press conference in support of Bernalillo County’s paid sick leave ordinance on Monday, August 19 at 11:30 a.m. at Enlace Comunitario (2425 Alamo Ave SE). Supporters of paid sick days will be attending to share their testimonies of how this bill will help others in similar situations and how paid sick leave can be considered as paid “safe time”.

WHAT: Survivors of domestic violence share why paid sick leave can help others

WHEN: Monday, August 19, 2019 at 11:30 a.m.

WHERE: Enlace Comunitario, 2425 Alamo Ave SE, Albuquerque, NM 87106 

WHO: Domestic violence survivors and advocates for paid sick leave

###

Supporters of the paid sick leave ordinance includes: AARP, Center for Civic Policy, El Centro de Igualdad y Derechos, Enlace Comunitario, Equality New Mexico, the New Mexico Center on Law & Poverty, New Mexico Voices for Children, New Mexico Working Families Party, OLÉ, Strong Families New Mexico, and the United Food & Commercial Workers.

Trump’s alarming “Public Charge” rule attacks immigrants, threatening access to food and healthcare

The Trump administration greenlights rule despite massive public opposition

ALBUQUERQUE—Widespread, devastating impact looms as the Trump administration sidesteps Congress with “Public Charge” changes. The expanded “Public Charge” rule allows the government to deny permanent residency (green cards) and visa renewals to lawfully present immigrants who participate in basic need programs like Medicaid, housing assistance, and SNAP food assistance. The rule also adds specific requirements into the public charge test, including income, age, health and English proficiency. Advocacy groups condemn the new rule, which goes into effect October 15, 2019.

“Immigrant communities contribute so much to the cultural, civic, and economic fabric of our state and nation,” said Fabiola Landeros, a community organizer with El CENTRO de Igualdad y Derechos. “Once again the Trump administration is targeting our communities, persecuting the most vulnerable based on their economic status, and trying to minimize our political power. No family should be forced to choose between feeding their children or having access to medical care or risking family separation. In New Mexico, we value taking care of our families and neighbors. As Nuevo Mexicanos, we need to look for solutions to provide safety net services for our communities and we must fight back against Trump’s racist agenda by continuing to organize and building upon our legacy in New Mexico of supporting immigrant integration.”   

“The expanded public charge rule is an attack on all immigrants, including children and seniors who, like any working American, may need to access supplemental benefits at any point such as subsidized housing or food stamps,” said Kay Bounkeua, Executive Director of the New Mexico Asian Family Center. “The Asian population has a high rate of family sponsorships and limited English proficiency—the expanded testing will result in keeping families apart and undermine the strengths and contributions of a racially diverse community.”

Congress made many lawfully present immigrants eligible for basic needs assistance to promote economic stability. Historically, administrations of both parties have only considered receipt of cash benefits and institutional care as reasons to deny lawfully present immigrants visa renewals or to deny their application for permanent residency. 

“We have a shared responsibility to make sure no one in our community, especially children, go without basic needs,” said Teague Gonzalez, an attorney at the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty. “Immigrants contribute exponentially more to our tax system that supports basic benefit programs than they draw in direct assistance. Trump’s new rule furthers a cruel and racist agenda meant to separate families and spread fear. It will turn the U.S. immigration system into a pay-to-play game that unfairly favors the wealthiest households.”

“We envision a vibrant New Mexico where all people—regardless of immigration status—can achieve their full potential and are treated with dignity and respect,” said Eduardo García, an attorney with the New Mexico Immigrant Law Center. “This harsh change in policy targeting immigrants goes against our core values. It is a tactic to spread fear among immigrants, discourage immigration, and harm immigrants by preventing them from having access to public resources. Further, this policy change and the ugly rhetoric behind it continue to fuel hatred, xenophobia, and racism against immigrants. Nonetheless, we will fight back and NMILC will provide guidance to people that need it.” 

“We are saddened by the Trump administration’s decision to force our country’s green card applicants to make an impossible choice between legally receiving public benefits and getting their green cards, both of which they need to succeed in our country,” said Tess Wilkes of the Santa Fe Dreamers Project. “The complexity of this rule change will discourage many eligible folks in the immigrant community from even applying for much-needed public benefits for themselves and their children, at a time when many of them already feel under attack.”

The proposed changes to public charge policy are already causing significant harm. Fear and confusion is creating a chilling effect, causing people to disenroll from programs and forgo benefits. The impact is far-reaching in New Mexico—nearly one in 10 New Mexicans is an immigrant, and one in nine have immigrant parents. Over 77,000 U.S. citizen children in New Mexico live with at least one immigrant parent and are in a family that receives basic food assistance. A Manatt Health analysis estimates that, across the country, as many as 26 million people and their families could be dissuaded from using public benefits under the proposed rule change. 

“The American spirit is rooted in the welcoming of the stranger into our communities—it is in the belief that all coming to our communities should be cared for and that everyone has the opportunity to be given the resources necessary to climb out of poverty and contribute to the community,” said James Gannon, CEO of Catholic Charities. “Throughout the history of this nation, the foreign born welcomed into our community have contributed to and strengthened the fabric of our nation, and participated in our national defense and advanced our society. Penalizing through an expansion of public-charge testing of immigrants will only lead to self-injury to the American society and our nation.” 

New Mexico stands to lose as many as 2,700 jobs and nearly $400 million in economic activity because eligible New Mexicans will forego federal benefits that flow directly into the state’s economy. Immigrant-led households in New Mexico paid $756.9 million in federal taxes and $394.3 million in state and local taxes in 2014.

“The vast majority of children in New Mexico–97%–are U.S.-born citizens. But that shouldn’t matter. Every child living in New Mexico, regardless of where they or their parents were born, deserves the healthcare, food assistance, and other benefits they’re eligible for and need in order to thrive,” said James Jimenez, executive director of New Mexico Voices for Children. “As with the family separations–which are still going on–this is an unconscionable and racist immigration policy that will have very negative, life-long consequences for children.”

“Punishing people for accepting help with food, housing, and medical care that they are eligible for, and have contributed tax dollars to, will have devastating and widespread effects on New Mexico’s communities,” added Gonzalez. “The expanded rule will push people further into poverty, separate families, and lead to overall worse health outcomes and higher rates of food insecurity in our state. We are already hearing from families who are afraid to seek help for their children.” 

For more information please see the following handouts in English and Spanish. People concerned about their benefits or immigration status should speak to an immigration attorney about the best route for families to take.
 

Trump’s new rule would roll back civil rights protections in healthcare law

Nondiscrimination protections under the ACA are at risk

ALBUQUERQUE—In a move that will especially harm trans people, the LGBTQ+ community, patients who speak languages other than English, and people who need access to abortion services, the Trump administration proposed rolling back enforcement of nondiscrimination protections under the Affordable Care Act. New Mexico advocates who champion access to healthcare urge New Mexicans to publicly oppose Trump’s latest threat to healthcare accessibility.  

The ACA’s landmark nondiscrimination provision, known as Section 1557 or the Health Care Rights Law, protects patients from discrimination based on race, color, national origin, sex, age, and disability. Comments on proposed changes to Section 1557 must be submitted with the Federal Register by August 13, 2019.

“Discrimination has no place in health care,” said William Townley, New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty Healthcare Attorney. “Rolling back Section 1557 would allow discrimination and stereotyping to override patient care. This will endanger the health and lives of many New Mexicans and create needless confusion for providers and patients alike. We encourage individuals and groups to submit public comments with the Federal Register voicing opposition to the rollback of these important legal protections.”

“A patient’s health and wellbeing should always come first,” said Adrian N. Carver, Equality New Mexico Executive Director. “Giving healthcare professionals a license to discriminate against queer and transgender people is unacceptable. Rules that allow providers to ignore standard medical best practices and instead put their personal beliefs before patient health has the potential to gravely harm thousands of people and their families’ health. Our community must submit comment on these rules because, if enacted, these regulations threaten to completely upend the careful balance of religious freedom and other important human rights and instead grant providers a license to put their personal views before the healthcare needs of the patient.” 

The Trump administration is proposing rules that would reinterpret Section 1557 by

  • exempting a broad number of healthcare programs and entities from having to comply with Section 1557’s nondiscrimination provisions;
  • eliminating nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ+ persons from regulations;
  • ending provisions that ensure people who speak languages other than English receive critical notices in the language they speak; 
  • removing protections against health plan designs that discriminate against people with serious or chronic health conditions.

“In addition to erasing the gender identity of individuals who identify outside of the binary choices of male or female, the proposed rule would gravely harm access to healthcare. The rule would let hospitals and clinics refuse to provide abortions based on religious or conscience concerns, even when there are no other providers in the area that could provide care,” said Terrelene Massey, Southwest Women’s Law Center Executive Director. “In a state such as New Mexico, which is largely rural, people do not always have a choice for where to go. In Santa Fe County, for example, the main provider of healthcare services is Catholic affiliated. Finding a medical provider without religious or conscience concerns would require a person to travel great distances and likely pay additional costs for using a provider out of their insurance network. The proposed Section 1557 changes could result in great bodily harm or even death to some, simply because of where they happen to live.”

Individuals can submit comments on proposed changes to Section 1557 at: https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2019/06/14/2019-11512/nondiscrimination-in-health-and-health-education-programs-or-activities

New Mexico has a long way to go to improve education system, charge Yazzie plaintiffs 

SANTA FE—Students still lack the basics that are necessary for a constitutionally sufficient education, charged the Yazzie plaintiffs of the landmark education lawsuit, Yazzie/Martinez v. State of New Mexico in a legal notice of case status filed with the First Judicial District Court today. 

“We know that the Public Education Department and the governor want New Mexico’s diverse student population to have the educational opportunities they need to succeed,” said Lauren Winkler, an attorney with the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty. “Unfortunately, our legislature did not do nearly enough for our students this session. As a result, school districts have been unable to provide additional programming and supports for at-risk students like bilingual education and social services. In fact, many districts have been forced to cut basic programs like reading intervention and drop-out/truancy prevention, and they cannot meet the demand for pre-K programs.” 

Plaintiffs in the case are working with the governor and the PED on a plan to bring the state into compliance with the First Judicial District Court’s most recent February 2019 court order, which found that the state violated students’ constitutional rights to a sufficient education and ordered the state to provide educational programs, services, and funding to schools to prepare students so they are college and career ready.

The court ordered the state to take immediate action for at-risk students that face the deepest inequities and barriers to education, including low-income students, Native American and Latino students, English language learners, and students with disabilities. Judge Sarah Singleton’s initial ruling was in July 2018.

Since the court’s July 2018 decision, the Yazzie plaintiffs have worked with a broad group of educators, tribal members, community groups, and school districts to craft a platform of action necessary to transform New Mexico’s educational system to address the needs of at-risk children in compliance with the court orders. Most of the programs and funding in the platform, supported by plaintiffs, were blocked by legislative leaders and died in committees.

The New Mexico State Legislature increased education funding this past session, but school districts had to spend the bulk of the increase on a much needed raise for educators. Once districts allocated funds for the modest six percent raise, they did not have enough funding for basic educational necessities that would bring the state into compliance with the court’s ruling.

“We still have a substandard education system for our children. Our schools not only lack the basics, they lack the essential culturally relevant resources and materials, that our children need,” said Wilhelmina Yazzie, the lead plaintiff in the case who has children in the Gallup McKinley County Schools. “This is not acceptable. All our children deserve an equal opportunity to succeed. My hope is that the state will act upon the court’s ruling and make our children a priority. We cannot waste another year. Our children are the future of New Mexico, and they are sacred.” 

The notice of case status states that the Legislature’s increased funding is not sufficient to:

  • Cover basic instructional materials and technology for classrooms;
  • Ensure teaching is tailored to the unique cultural and linguistic needs of our students, including English-language learners and indigenous communities;
  • Adequately expand access to pre-K, summer school, after school programs, reading specialists, and smaller class sizes;
  • Ensure social services, counseling, health care and literacy specialists are available to all students who need them;
  • Invest in our educators to attract and retain new teachers and expand their qualifications, especially for special education, science, and bilingual education;
  • Adequately increase the transportation budget to ensure all students have the opportunity to participate in after-school and summer programs.

“Raises for teachers and support personnel were essential to recruiting and retaining employees. Rio Rancho is still seeing its teachers exit the profession and leave for better salaries. The most important support we provide students is a highly qualified teacher, but we struggle to find staff in every field. New Mexico must offer salaries that are competitive with neighboring states,” said Sue Cleveland, superintendent of the Rio Rancho Public School District. “But after satisfying the salary mandate, insufficient funds remained for programs such as pre-K and for addressing the needs for social workers, dual-language programs, and literacy specialists. We continue to run a deficit of $800,000 for transportation, diverting funds away from the classroom. Positive gains have been made, but there is still work to be done.”

While the Legislature significantly increased funding for extended learning through the K-5 Plus and the Extended Learning programs, the vast majority of at-risk students do not have access to these programs.

By the time the laws were passed, districts had little time to consult with teachers and parents to determine whether the districts could apply for the programs. Many districts did not apply for funding because they determined that the money available would not cover the actual cost of the programs; the program requirements were too strict and inflexible; and they did not have time to determine whether they could implement the programs.

The Legislature also increased funding for pre-K for four-year-olds, but thousands of families who applied for the program still do not have access.

The Yazzie plaintiff’s Notice to the Court of Case Status in Yazzie/Martinez v. State of New Mexico can be found here: http://nmpovertylaw.org/notice-yazziemartinez-v-nm-yazzie-plaintiffs-2019-06-28/

The final ruling in Yazzie/Martinez v. State of New Mexico can be found here: http://nmpovertylaw.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/D-101-CV-2014-00793-Final-Judgment-and-Order-NCJ-1.pdf

Sick Leave Ordinance Introduced at the Bernalillo County Commission

Low-wage workers, community leaders applaud first great step to building a stronger economy by ensuring our workers are healthy

Albuquerque, N.M.– During a packed meeting Tuesday night, the Bernalillo County Commission introduced a proposed paid sick leave ordinance for Bernalillo County —a step supporters of the ordinance say will support families succeed in building thriving communities.

Bernalillo County Commissioner Maggie Hart-Stebbins introduced the Bernalillo County Paid Sick Leave Ordinance as a way to alleviate the challenges working families face when forced to choose between losing a day’s pay or going to work sick because of the need to care for themselves or for their loved ones.

The proposed ordinance does the following:

  • The ordinance applies to any worker employed at least 56 hours per year at a business with two or more employees, the county, or a nonprofit with two or more employees in Bernalillo County.
  • It allows workers to accrue one hour of paid sick time for every 30 hours worked.
    • Employers are not required to provide more than a total of 56 hours per year.
    • Paid sick leave can be used starting on the 90th calendar day after they are hired.
    • Allows up to 56 hours of unused sick time carry over into the next year
  • Allows employers who currently have a PTO policy that exceeds the minimal requirements of this ordinance to continue with their current policy.

The following conditions exempt a business from providing paid sick leave:

  • Businesses or employers with only one employee
  • New business startups that obtain an exemption for their first year of business
  • And family-owned and operated businesses that employ only family members

“The introduction of a possible paid sick leave program in Bernalillo County makes sense because a strong economy begins with every worker in our community having the ability to care for their health and well being,” said Maggie Hart-Stebbins, Bernalillo County Commissioner. “Everyone gets sick and everyone should be able to take time to care for themselves or their families. Providing earned sick days protects the economic stability of working families and the public health across our community.”

According to a study by the University of New Mexico Bureau of Business and Economic Research, in the city of Albuquerque alone, 36% of private-sector workers have no paid sick leave and that 90% of those with household incomes less than $15,000 presently do not have paid sick leave.

The following are reactions from low-wage workers and community organizations from across bernalillo County who are in support of the ‘Paid Sick Leave’ ordinance:

“Family stability comes in a variety of ways: good public education, good paying jobs, and a support system to get us through unpredictable life moments, said Trae Buffin, member of OLÉ. “Paid Sick Leave is about putting our New Mexican families’ needs first and providing them the support they need to build thriving communities.”

“Unfortunately not every family or worker has a strong support system to go through sickness, family emergencies, or even protecting their own lives and those of their children,” said Mary Ann Maestas, Member, NM Working Families Party. “Today’s introduced proposal will alleviate this challenge by allowing workers to accrue paid time that can be used to care for those “life moments” while not losing a day pay or even their jobs.”

“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,” said Hilda Gomez, low-wage worker and member of El CENTRO de Igualdad y Derechos. “Having paid sick leave ensures we take care of the most integral part of our state economy: OUR WORKERS! Because when our workers are ok, our economy is ok, and we increase our opportunity to make our state thrive.”

The proposed ‘paid sick leave’ ordinance is expected to be voted on June 25, 2019.

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

LAS CRUCES—On Thursday at 10:30 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.

At the hearing, the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty will provide information about a statistically significant review of food and medical assistance cases conducted between September 2018 to February 2019. Both the court appointed Special Master and the plaintiffs, represented by the Center, found that New Mexicans are still not getting the food and medical assistance they need because HSD continues to violate the law.

According to an extensive review by the Center of HSD client cases, HSD made errors in 202 out of 288 cases—an error rate of 70%. These errors led to 109 households of the 288 cases reviewed losing food or medical assistance, sometimes both. The Special Master validated nearly all these findings. The review found that HSD continues to illegally deny food and medical assistance in the following ways:

  • HSD illegally denies food and medical assistance to families who fail to provide unnecessary paperwork.
  • HSD’s own quality assurance team failed to find the vast majority of the errors found by the Center and the Special Master.
  • HSD does not consistently apply eligibility policy and application procedures.
  • HSD does not accurately inform families about their eligibility and what is needed to process their case.
  • HSD’s management team lacks expertise to administer food and medical programs in accordance with federal law.
  • HSD’s IT system requires changes to accurately process applications for benefits.

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.

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 Gonzales v. Earnest joint status report can be found here: http://nmpovertylaw.org/doc-873-joint-status-report-2019-05-01/

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

WHEN:
Thursday, May 16, 2019 at 10:30 a.m.

WHERE:
United States Courthouse
4th Floor, North Tower, Mimbres Courtroom
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

Court must ensure NM kids’ right to sufficient education

By Gail Evans, Lead Attorney for plantiffs, Yazzie v. State of New Mexico
(This article appeared in the Albuquerque Journal.)

Our courts have the critical role of upholding the constitutional rights of our children. New Mexico’s Constitution guarantees children a sufficient education, one that prepares them for the rigors of college and the workforce. But for decades, our state has failed our students.

Our public education system is woefully insufficient, leading a district court to rule last July that the state is violating the constitutional rights of our students. After volumes of evidence and testimony from dozens of experts, the court found the state has not adequately invested in public education nor adopted the educational instruction and programs constitutionally required to close achievement gaps for N.M. students, especially low-income, Native American, English-language learners and students with disabilities.

The legislative process is a political one fraught with competing interests. For years, our children have been shortchanged by legislative budgets that have consistently underfunded public schools. Unfortunately, even after the court’s ruling, the Legislature this year only went part of the way in addressing the changes necessary.

While the funding allocated for public schools is higher than in recent years, it won’t even get us back to 2008 levels when adjusted for inflation. Like today, in 2008, our funding was insufficient and our state’s education outcomes ranked at or near the bottom nationally. Filling a hole that gets us back to 2008 levels of funding is not the investment in education our Constitution requires.

The increased funding will not be sufficient to ensure social services, counseling, health care and literacy specialists are available to all students who need them. It is not enough to cover basic instructional materials for the classroom, or to invest in our educators to attract and retain new teachers and expand their qualifications. It is not enough to ensure teaching is tailored to the unique cultural and linguistic needs of our students, including English-language learners and indigenous communities. And the transportation budget remains insufficient to ensure all students have the opportunity to participate in after-school and summer programs.

While the governor’s call for a “moonshot for education” is certainly the kind of vision we need, a moonshot requires sufficient investment of programs, services, time and money that we have yet to commit.

While it is encouraging our new governor will not appeal the Yazzie/Martinez ruling, she has now called for the court to vacate sections of the ruling. This will only further endanger our students’ life chances. The state should instead work to comply with the ruling and the Constitution; the future success of our children and New Mexico depends on it. Children should not be pawns in the political process. It is the role of the judicial branch to interpret and enforce the law. The court ruling requires us to act, mandating that we do better by our students. Our children are smart and capable, and rich in culture and diversity. We can provide an education system that serves all New Mexicans, regardless of their economic circumstances or cultural background.