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/

State admits students lack a sufficient education in motion to dismiss Yazzie/Martinez lawsuit

ALBUQUERQUE—In a motion asking the First Judicial District Court to dismiss the Yazzie/Martinez v. State of New Mexico lawsuit on Friday, the state acknowledged it continues to violate students’ right to a sufficient education. Legal counsel for the Yazzie plaintiff families pledge to continue litigation to hold the state accountable to comply with the court’s landmark ruling.  

The following can be attributed to Gail Evans, lead counsel for the Yazzie plaintiffs in the Yazzie/Martinez v. State of New Mexico lawsuit.

“The state knows it must make comprehensive changes to fix the education system for our students, but over a year and a half since the ruling, little to nothing has changed for the students at the heart of the case—low-income, English language learners, Native American, and students with disabilities, who account for about 80% of New Mexico’s student population. 

“In asking the judge to dismiss the case, the state does not argue that it has fixed our schools. The state simply can’t refute the stark fact that it has a very long way to go to provide our students with a sufficient education. Despite two legislative sessions since the court ruled, the state has not come close to adequately addressing long running problems. 

“We cannot expect that the political system will simply shift course and do right by our students. The court has to intervene when politics fail, and politics have clearly failed New Mexico’s children for decades. As long as the state does not provide children the educational opportunities they need, the Yazzie plaintiffs will continue to fight for our students.”

There will be a hearing on the Yazzie plaintiffs’ motion to hold the state in compliance with the court’s order and develop a plan on March 27 before Judge Matthew Wilson.

The Yazzie plaintiff’s reply brief in Yazzie/Martinez v. State of New Mexico can be found here: http://nmpovertylaw.org/yazzie-plaintiffs-reply-compliance-motion-2020-01-31/

Reply brief exhibits can be found here: http://nmpovertylaw.org/exhibits-for-yazzie-reply-brief-2020-01-31/

A report by economist Steve Barro on public education funding trends in New Mexico can be found here:  http://nmpovertylaw.org/report-nm-edu-funding-trends-barro-2020-01-30/

The final ruling in the lawsuit can be found here: http://nmpovertylaw.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/D-101-CV-2014-00793-Final-Judgment-and-Order-NCJ-1.pdf

Report shows gaps in New Mexico’s early childhood agenda

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

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

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

Home visiting empowers parents 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Increasing and enforcing the minimum wage supports economically stable families 

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

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

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

Improving cash assistance to support economically stable families

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

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

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

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

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

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

Education funding & teacher pay do not meet pre-recession levels, charge Yazzie plaintiffs

Brief states New Mexico students still do not have the educational opportunities they need

SANTA FE—Every New Mexico student has a constitutional right to a sufficient education, but the state still fails to provide children the educational opportunities they need, charge Yazzie plaintiffs from the Yazzie/Martinez v. State of New Mexico lawsuit. The reply brief, filed with the First Judicial District Court today, provides evidence that New Mexico public schools have less spendable funding and lower teacher pay than in 2008 when adjusted for inflation. 

“While education spending increased last year, a large portion of that money couldn’t be spent and we still haven’t caught up with 2008 levels of per student spending,” said Gail Evans, lead counsel for the Yazzie plaintiffs. “School districts have been forced to use money meant for at-risk students to keep their doors open in the 2019-2020 school year.”

Evans added, “New Mexico also still has a severe shortage of teachers. The teacher raises and budget increase simply were not enough. It’s urgent that our state overhaul our education system. Our kids can’t wait another year.”

In the 2019 New Mexico State Legislature, school districts had raised numerous concerns that they would not be able to use much of the 16% education funding increase due to the rigid requirements on how to spend the appropriations for K-5 Plus and the Extended Learning Time Program. 

When districts allocated funds for the mandated and necessary educator raises, they did not have enough funding to provide the basic requirements for low-income, special education, English language learners and Native American students. In fact, many districts were forced to cut basic programs like reading intervention and unable to provide sufficient professional development, instructional materials, social services, transportation, and other programs and services.

However, the modest raises were still not enough to make New Mexico teacher salaries competitive with neighboring states. School districts are still seeing its teachers exit the profession and leave for better salaries. 

“Make no mistake, even if our education funding had reached 2008 levels, New Mexico would still have a long way to go to provide our kids with the education they need and are legally entitled to,” said Evans. “In 2008 our funding was insufficient and our state’s education outcomes ranked at or near the bottom nationally, and that continues today.” 

The reply brief completes the Yazzie plaintiffs’ motion they filed at the end of October 2019. It asked the court to order the state to develop a plan with deadlines and funding sources to show how the state is going to bring the education system into compliance with our constitution, which guarantees all students the opportunity to be ready for college or career. 

A report by economist Steve Barro on public education funding trends in New Mexico can be found here:  http://nmpovertylaw.org/report-nm-edu-funding-trends-barro-2020-01-30/

The Yazzie plaintiff’s reply brief in Yazzie/Martinez v. State of New Mexico can be found here: http://nmpovertylaw.org/yazzie-plaintiffs-reply-compliance-motion-2020-01-31/

Reply brief exhibits can be found here: http://nmpovertylaw.org/exhibits-for-yazzie-reply-brief-2020-01-31/

The final ruling in the lawsuit can be found here: http://nmpovertylaw.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/D-101-CV-2014-00793-Final-Judgment-and-Order-NCJ-1.pdf

Mobile home park residents fight illegal fines and eviction

Residents file class action lawsuit in Second Judicial Court

ALBUQUERQUE—Residents of Aztec Village, a mobile home park in Albuquerque, came together for fairness and dignity in their community today and sued the corporate landlord and manager of the park where their homes are located. The residents charge that Nodel Parks LLC—which owns mobile home parks throughout the country, including six in Albuquerque—and park manager Magdalena Vila illegally and arbitrarily fined them for alleged infractions of community rules and threatened them with eviction when they couldn’t pay. 

The plaintiffs in the class action lawsuit Chavez v. Nodel Parks, LLC  are represented by the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty and Parnall and Adams Law. The lawsuit was filed in Second Judicial District Court in Albuquerque today.

“Really, the people who live here, we are like family,” said Marlena Martinez, a longtime Aztec Village resident who helped organize residents to fight the park’s unfair practices. “Over 100 families live here, and some of us have been here for over 40 years. It’s an understatement to say that we are invested in our community. Ever since management began unfairly fining us and forcing people out of the community, we have been fighting together for our homes, our financial stability, and to stay together.”

Nodel Parks changed management of Aztec Village in May of 2019 and soon began issuing fines for violations of what the manager said were community rules. However, many of the alleged violations residents were fined for, including disposing of leaves in community dumpsters and having child toys in the front yard, were not actual violations of Aztec Village’s rules. 

Rather, the rules and fines enforced by Nodel Parks are arbitrary decisions that the lawsuit claims are used to intimidate and coerce payment from residents in violation of state law. Residents informed Nodel Parks of the problems, but upper management refused to take any action. As a result, residents are forced to pay the illegal fines and are in danger of losing their homes when they cannot pay. 

The lawsuit comes at a time when New Mexico faces a severe housing crisis. The Housing and Urban Development Department found that the state topped the nation with a rise in homelessness with a 27% increase from 2018 to 2019. Homelessness in Albuquerque alone, rose by 15%.

Mobile homes are the single greatest source of affordable housing stock in the United States.

“Landlords must follow the law and treat residents with respect. There are hundreds of communities like Aztec Park across the state, and unfair policies and practices like these push hard working New Mexican families out of their communities and onto the streets,” said Maria Griego, supervising attorney at the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty. “When you own your home but rent the land it’s on, you are at particular risk of unfair and predatory practices by landlords. For this very reason, the New Mexico Legislature enacted the New Mexico Mobile Home Park Act to protect mobile home park residents.”

The state Mobile Home Park Act requires mobile home park owners to publish and enforce community rules only after soliciting comments from the community and posting responses. The law prohibits mobile home park owners from charging fines for violations of community rules and/or rental agreements. Instead, the law requires notice and an opportunity to rectify a violation. 

The families are asking the court to order defendants to stop:

  • Issuing fines for alleged or actual violations of rental agreements and/or the community rules and regulations;
  • Sending notices that threaten to evict or take further action against tenants if they don’t pay the fines; 
  • Rejecting rent from tenants if the total amount does not include any fines assessed against the tenant. 

The families are also asking the court to require the defendants to pay money damages for each instance in which the park management violated New Mexico law.

“I’m a homeowner just like any other and deserve to be treated fairly and with respect,” said Martinez.  “We are not going to let them get away with tearing our communities apart and cheating us out of our homes.”

Attorneys on the lawsuit Chavez v. Nodel Parks, LLC, include Maria Griego, Lindsay Cutler, and Sovereign Hager from the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty and David Adams and Charles Parnall from Parnall and Adams Law.

The complaint can be found here: http://nmpovertylaw.org/complaint-chavez-v-nodel-parks-llc-01-30-2020/

The exhibits can be found here: http://nmpovertylaw.org/exhibits-chavez-v-nodel-parks-2020-01-30/

Over 27,000 New Mexicans could lose food assistance due to Trump administration rule

ALBUQUERQUE—Federal food assistance was created to increase nutrition levels and eliminate hunger. However, the Trump administration published a final rule yesterday that threatens food assistance for more than 27,255 New Mexicans and 755,000 low-income adults nationwide. The rule will go into effect on April 1, 2020.

Federal law already required that states limit Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) eligibility to just three months out of every three years for unemployed and underemployed adults without dependent children unless they can document 20 hours of work a week. The Trump administration rule makes the requirement even harsher by preventing many states from waiving these draconian time limits in areas with high unemployment.

“There is absolutely no excuse for anyone in the richest country in the world to ever go hungry,” said Sovereign Hager, legal director at the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty. “There has always been bipartisan support for protecting food assistance. The Trump administration chose to sidestep Congress, which rejected these cuts in the 2018 Farm Bill, and push cuts through by regulation.

“We’re proud to be from a state that opposed the rule,” said Teague González, supervising attorney at the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty. “Now, more than ever, it’s important New Mexico quickly institute a strong plan for more employment and training programs to mitigate the harmful impact of this rule. If it does not, thousands of people will be locked out of food assistance for up to three years.”

New Mexico has some of the highest rates of food insecurity in the United States and implemented a statewide waiver of the time limits for decades because the state’s unemployment levels have been more than 20 percent above the national average. But counties like Catron, Cibola, McKinley, Mora, Sierra, Taos, and Torrance—with unemployment rates over seven percent—will no longer qualify for a waiver. The same would be true for most Native American communities in the state.

There is no evidence that proposals to take food assistance away from people who do not meet new, expanded work requirements increases employment or earnings. However, data from states that implemented time limits show that the vast majority of adults simply lost SNAP benefits without finding employment. 

The people who receive food assistance in New Mexico who can work, do work; 46 percent are in working families. Others have disabilities, are elderly, or simply cannot find work. The adults affected are some of the lowest income of all SNAP participants. USDA data shows that those likely to be cut off by the time limit have an average monthly income of about 17 percent of the poverty line.

“The people impacted by this rule have been systematically disenfranchised by our economic system and face real barriers to maintaining and documenting full time employment,” said González. “Taking away basic food assistance only makes people hungry and does not help anyone find a job. The government should instead be implementing what we know helps people find work, and that’s individualized job training, a fair minimum wage, affordable childcare and housing.” 

SNAP cuts will hurt grocers and New Mexico’s economy. SNAP benefits are spent at more than 1,588 authorized retailers in New Mexico, including grocers and local food retailers around the state. About $693 million of SNAP benefits were redeemed in New Mexico in 2016. The average New Mexico SNAP benefit in FY 2017 was $121. When multiplied by the 27,244 people who could lose benefits under the proposed rule, up to $3,296,524 federal dollars could leave the state.

SNAP cuts will also mean an increase in public healthcare costs for New Mexico. A study published by the American Medical Association found that on average SNAP participation lowers an individual’s health care expenditures by approximately $1,447 per year.

Court asked to order HSD to implement plan to remove barriers to food and medical assistance  

HSD and Center on Law and Poverty jointly drafted the court approved corrective action plan the department now refuses to adopt  

LAS CRUCES—Families continue to go without food and medical assistance they are eligible for because the New Mexico Human Services Department has failed to implement major elements of a corrective action plan the department itself helped draft and the court approved and mandated. In a motion filed yesterday evening on behalf of plaintiffs in the lawsuit Deborah Hatten Gonzales v. David Scrase, the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty asked a U.S. District Court to order HSD to comply with the plan, set deadlines, share information, and meet with plaintiffs.

“No family should have to go hungry or be without health coverage, but that’s exactly what’s happening in New Mexico,” said Teague Gonzalez, supervising attorney at the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty. “We were encouraged by the plan we developed with HSD, but the department has stopped cooperating and is refusing to set deadlines and fix long standing problems. HSD needs to implement the plan they agreed to immediately.”

While HSD has made some progress, serious failures continue. In the motion, the Center charges that HSD has refused to implement a corrective action plan and court ordered changes including: 

  • Improving its notoriously faulty IT system so families with immigrant members are not illegally denied benefits or required to provide documents that are not necessary to get benefits for eligible family members; 
  • Fixing the language in form notices so they explain how families can prove their eligibility to maintain their food and medical assistance and clearly understand why they are denied benefits; and
  • Implementing basic eligibility content into a worker manual, improve regulations and worker training. 

The court mandated a review of HSD case files that was completed in February 2019. In this audit, the Center found tremendous errors in 67 percent of all cases involving immigrant families. Of these, 60 percent resulted in a delay of one month or more receiving assistance.

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.

Judge Kenneth Gonzales set a series of deadlines in April 2018 for HSD compliance with court ordered reforms. Under new HSD Secretary David Scrase, plaintiffs and HSD jointly drafted, and agreed upon, a corrective action plan that the court approved in July 2019. However, HSD hired a new acting general counsel in August 2019 and collaboration has halted.

The long-running Hatten-Gonzales lawsuit was originally filed in 1989. While some progress has been made, HSD has never satisfactorily 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.

There will be a status conference on the state’s compliance with the multiple court orders to remove barriers to food and medical assistance for eligible families tomorrow at 10:00 a.m. in U.S. District Court in Las Cruces before Judge Kenneth Gonzales.

The court motion can be found here: http://nmpovertylaw.org/hatten-gonzales-v-earnest-motion-to-enforce-judgment-2019-11-19/

The New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty report on its 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/

Yazzie plaintiffs call on state to develop transformative education plan

SANTA FE—New Mexico students still lack the basics necessary for a constitutionally sufficient education, charged the Yazzie plaintiffs of the landmark education lawsuit, Yazzie/Martinez v. State of New Mexico in a motion filed with the First Judicial District Court today. The motion asks the court to order the state to develop, implement, and fully fund a long-term plan that will meet the state’s constitutional mandate that guarantees all public school students the opportunity to be college and career ready.

“New Mexico has a historical opportunity, and a constitutional obligation, to transform our education system by building a multicultural educational framework and providing all students the opportunities they need to be ready for college or career,” said Gail Evans, lead counsel for the Yazzie plaintiffs in the lawsuit brought the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty. “It’s been almost a year and a half since the Yazzie/Martinez decision, but the state still lacks a concrete, long term plan that would put us on the right path for a constitutionally sufficient education, along with necessary funding. New Mexico’s students need action now. We are asking the court to order the state to take immediate action to comply with the court’s order.”   

In July 2018, Judge Sarah Singleton ruled that the state is violating public school students’ rights—especially low-income, students of color, English language learners, and students with disabilities—to a sufficient and uniform education. She ordered the state to take immediate action to overhaul the state’s education system.

The 2019 New Mexico Legislature did not do enough to comply with the Yazzie/Martinez decision. As a result, school districts were unable to provide the programming and supports for at risk students like bilingual education and social services. In fact, many districts were forced to cut basic programs like reading intervention and drop-out/truancy prevention, and cannot meet the demand for pre-K programs.

“Cuba Schools serves predominantly Native American students, but we still lack the funds to provide culturally relevant curriculum and language support,” said Dr. Karen Sanchez-Griego, superintendent of Cuba Independent School District, a plaintiff in the Yazzie lawsuit. “We also can’t provide adequate programming to our students with disabilities or transportation services to get students to and from tutoring, summer school, and after-school programs. We need to make real changes to our education system now to give all our children—and our state—an opportunity to succeed.”

The motion argues that 2019 education legislation did not comply with the court order by failing 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;
  • Make pre-K, summer school, after-school programs, reading specialists, and smaller class sizes available to all children who need them;
  • 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; and
  • Adequately increase the transportation budget to ensure all students have the opportunity to participate in after-school and summer programs.

“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 a son 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 any more time. Our children are the future of New Mexico, and they are sacred.”

The 2019 New Mexico State Legislature increased education funding, 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.

The Legislature increased funding for extended learning, through the K-5 Plus and the Extended Learning programs, but ignored multiple warnings that school districts would not be able to use much of the increase due to rigid requirements imposed by the state. 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.

“We need to do what’s right for our students, and we need sufficient funding and flexibility to do it,” said Dr. V. Sue Cleveland, superintendent of Rio Rancho Public Schools, a plaintiff in the Yazzie lawsuit. “We have had to cut important instructional positions such as reading interventionists and coaches, and we remain unable to provide sufficient professional development, instructional materials, transportation, and other programs and services our kids truly need.”

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 order. Most of the programs and funding in the platform, supported by plaintiffs, were blocked by legislative leaders and died in committees.

Attorneys on the case include lead counsel Gail Evans, Daniel Yohalem, and Lauren Winkler and Preston Sanchez with the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty.

The motion can be found here: http://nmpovertylaw.org/motion-yazzie-plaintiffs-motion-for-compliance-2019-10-30/

Exhibits for the motion can be found here: http://nmpovertylaw.org/exhibits-yazzie-motion-for-compliance-2019-10-30/

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

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