Groups ask governor for rent relief fund to prevent homelessness

Thousands of New Mexicans can’t pay rent due to pandemic-related economic downturn 

ALBUQUERQUE—To prevent a dramatic spike in homelessness as New Mexico navigates the COVID-19 crisis and its economic aftermath, social justice and housing organizations asked Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham this week to prioritize legislation creating a rent relief fund at the upcoming special session. Their letter also asks her to support a legislative moratorium on evictions and expanded protections for low-income homeowners.  

“If we don’t get some help with rent soon, I don’t know what’s going to happen to me and my family,” said Allyssa Garcia who lives in Albuquerque. “I’ve worked hard my whole life, but I have lupus, which puts me at high risk of getting the virus. I had to cut my hours back. My daughter, who has a heart defect, lost her disability for awhile. I had to appeal to the Social Security Administration to get it back. There just hasn’t been enough money to pay rent. Now my landlord has evicted me. They can’t force me to move out right now because of the health emergency, but once things open up, my three children and I might find ourselves on the street.”

New Mexico was already struggling with a crippling housing crisis before the health pandemic. In 2019, the state experienced the highest increase in chronic homelessness in the nation–up 57.6% since 2018. The most recent data from the Mortgage Finance Authority shows that 50% of New Mexico’s renters are housing cost burdened, meaning they spend upwards of 30% of their income on housing costs.  

Housing relief programs like the one the New Mexico advocates are calling for have already been established across the country to support local recovery. 

“Everyone deserves access to safe, stable housing, especially during a pandemic,” said Maria Griego, director of Economic Equity at the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty. “Unfortunately, temporary Supreme Court rules and federal moratoria only postpone evictions. While no one can be removed from their homes immediately, homelessness will increase as soon as the state of emergency ends.”

Griego added, “As New Mexico families face the COVID-19 crisis and its financial aftermath, including record levels of unemployment, we urge the state to actively respond to the real threat of a dramatic spike in homelessness and for the governor to put responsive legislation on her call at the special session.” 

“We need our elected officials to match the efforts of the people organizing on the ground,” said Tomás Rivera, executive director of Chainbreaker Collective. “Many people hardest hit by the pandemic live in neighborhoods already teetering on the edge of widespread displacement and gentrification. Without bold housing relief measures, the COVID-19 crisis may be the push that will tip whole neighborhoods over that edge. People will be forced into the street from neighborhoods where they have deep roots.” 

The groups and individuals that sent the letter to the governor include the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty, Chainbreaker Collective, ABC Community School Partnership, Albuquerque Health Care for the Homeless, Catholic Charities (Archdiocese of Santa Fe), Disability Rights New Mexico, Enlace Comunitario, Native American Disability Law Center, New Mexico Coalition to End Homelessness, Prosperity Works, Santa Fe Housing Action Coalition, Senior Citizens’ Law Office, Inc., United South Broadway Corporation, Elizabeth Elia, and Karen J. Meyers.

The letter to the governor can be found here: http://nmpovertylaw.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/Group-Letter-to-Governor-housing-relief.pdf

The Case for Education Equity in New Mexico

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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