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

Barriers finally removed after years of advocacy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Virtual Rally on State Paid Sick Leave

ALBUQUERQUE, NM—Join workers, community members, union members and allies for a virtual rally with State Legislators on March 2 at 6:30 p.m. to discuss why hard working New Mexicans need earned paid sick leave.

Únete a trabajadores, miembros de la comunidad y aliados en un mitin virtual con legisladores estatales este 2 de marzo a las 6:30 de la tarde. Para hablar sobre la importancia de que los trabajadores en Nuevo México tengan días de enfermedad pagados.

The rally will focus on HB 20 Healthy Workplaces Act, which when passed, would allow workers statewide to earn paid sick leave to care for themselves and their loved ones when sick.

Hablaremos sobre la propuesta HB 20, la Ley de Lugares de Trabajo Saludables, que, de ser aprobada, permitirá que los trabajadores en todo el estado tengan derecho a días de enfermedad pagados que podrán usar cuando se enfermen o para cuidar de sus seres queridos enfermos.

Habrá interpretación al español

WHAT:       Paid Sick Leave Virtual Rally

Register at https://www.mobilize.us/nm-wfp/event/376576/ 

WHO:        

  • Frontline workers who need paid sick leave
  • Public health leaders
  • AARP
  • State Legislators 

WHEN:      Tuesday, March 2, 2021 at 6:30 p.m.

WHERE: The rally will be live streamed on Facebook in Spanish on the @ElCentrodeIgualdadyDerechos page and in English on the @NMWFP and @OLENewmexico pages

The rally was organized by Center for Civic Policy, El Centro de Igualdad y Derechos, New Mexico Center on Law & Poverty, New Mexico Working Families Party, New Mexico Voices for Children, OLÉ, Somos Un Pueblo Unido and United Food and Commercial Workers.  

Yazzie plaintiffs ask court to order state to provide students computers and internet access

SANTA FE—Yazzie plaintiffs in the landmark Yazzie/Martinez education lawsuit asked the First Judicial District Court today to order the State of New Mexico to provide computers and high-speed internet access to the thousands of “at-risk” students who lack these necessary tools for remote learning. 

“Many children in New Mexico, especially those in rural districts and districts serving predominantly Native American students, don’t have computers or high-speed internet access and have been effectively denied access to public education since the pandemic started, worsening existing education inequities,” said Melissa Candelaria, a senior attorney at the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty, which represents the Yazzie plaintiffs.

In 2018, in the Yazzie/Martinez v. State of New Mexico lawsuit, the court ordered the state to provide a sufficient education to all public school students.

The state was required to immediately direct resources to remedy the failures in its education system, because the court recognized students—especially Native students, English language learners, students from low-income families, and students with disabilities—would be irreparably harmed if the state did not act swiftly. 

The court noted that access to technology, including computers and related infrastructure, is essential to a sufficient education.  

An estimated 23 percent of the New Mexico population lacks broadband internet service. An estimated 80 percent of Native Americans living on tribal lands in New Mexico do not have internet services at all. 

“During the COVID-19 pandemic, lack of access has been catastrophic for far too many New Mexican families because of the state’s failure to address the technology gaps,”  said Alisa Diehl, a senior attorney with the Center. “The state has to be accountable to New Mexico’s students and families and make access to their education a priority.”

Diehl continued, “Had the state complied with the 2018 court order, many more students would be able to access remote learning right now. Unfortunately, the state has spent its time and resources trying to dismiss the lawsuit. Nine months into the pandemic, too many students have received little to no education at all. This is utterly unacceptable. The state needs to take action immediately to make sure New Mexico’s students get the education they need and deserve.”

The motion can be found here: http://nmpovertylaw.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/Yazzie-Tech-Motion-With-Exhibits-1-6-Final.2020-12-15.pdf

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

Attorneys for the Yazzie plaintiffs include Melissa Candelaria, Alisa Diehl of the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty, Preston Sanchez of ACLU-NM, and Dan Yohalem.

MEDIA ADVISORY Virtual rally on Albuquerque paid time off bill tomorrow

ALBUQUERQUE, NM—New Mexico State Legislators will join community organizations and allies to discuss Albuquerque’s proposed paid time off bill introduced by Albuquerque City Councilors Lan Sena and Pat Davis. Workers will share why having paid time off is crucial for their health and safety and the health of their families. Legislators will discuss the importance of paid sick leave and paid time off for hardworking families in New Mexico.

WHAT:      
Albuquerque Paid Time Off Virtual Rally

WHO:        
Supporters for Albuquerque Paid Time
City Councilor Lan Sena 
Senator Antoinette Sedillo-Lopez
Senator Jerry Ortiz y Pino
Senator Andrés Romero
Representative Angelica Rubio
Representative Christine Trujillo
Representative Liz Thomson.

WHEN:      
Thursday, November 5, 2020 at 11:00 a.m.

WHERE:     
https://www.facebook.com/events/2801231766788399/

The rally was organized by Center for Civic Policy, El Centro de Igualdad y Derechos, Enlace Comunitario, New Mexico Center on Law & Poverty, New Mexico Working Families Party, New Mexico Voices for Children, and OLÉ.

Bernalillo County paid leave law goes into effect       

ALBUQUERQUE, NM—An ordinance requiring employers in the unincorporated areas of Bernalillo County to provide workers paid leave goes into effect today. The law will help alleviate the serious challenges many workers face when forced to choose between a paycheck and the health of their families and community. 

Its implementation comes late for many working families who have needed paid time off to keep themselves and the community healthy before and during the ongoing pandemic. 

Bernalillo County’s Employee Wellness Act applies to any worker in the unincorporated areas of the county employed at least 56 hours per year by an employer with two or more employees. Workers can earn up to 28 hours of paid time off per year. Employees of larger employers will eventually be able to earn up to 56 hours of paid leave per year. The ordinance phases those additional hours in over the next two years.

The Bernalillo County Commission passed the ordinance in August 2019 after hours of public comment by workers and community members. The Commission delayed its implementation until today.

Details on the ordinance can be found here: http://nmpovertylaw.org/factsheet-bernco-pto-ordinance-09-30-2020/

The following are reactions from workers and workers’ rights advocates.

Marian Méndez Cera, El CENTRO de Igualdad y Derechos Worker Rights Organizer
“Low-wage and immigrant workers have been working through the pandemic and kept our community running. By having paid time off, we are taking care of the most integral part of our economy, our workers. As we collectively face these challenges, it has become clear how interconnected we all are and it has shown that all workers are essential. Therefore, not only should paid sick leave be a fundamental human right so no worker has to make the decision of missing a day’s pay to tend to their health, but it should be part of our state’s public health plan to curb the spread of COVID-19.”

Eric Griego, NM Working Families State Director 
“During this difficult time when essential workers are struggling to survive and stay healthy, we hope our state and local leaders take their lead from the people on the front lines, not corporate lobbyists. The county ordinance provides minimal leave to those risking their own health to keep our economy going, and the current law should be improved, not delayed or diminished.”

Andrea Serrano, Organizers in the Land of Enchantment (OLÉ) Executive Director 
“We are happy that the County Commission has chosen not to further delay the implementation of the Bernalillo County paid time off ordinance. This ordinance will provide some relief for workers, however, this bill only covers the unincorporated parts of Bernalillo County, leaving out the majority of the population in the metropolitan area. The reality is all workers need paid sick leave—especially now. COVID-19 has hit our communities of color hard and Bernalillo County’s hardworking families need and deserve paid sick leave.The City of Albuquerque and the State of New Mexico need to step up and focus on a strong paid sick leave bill that will incorporate every worker, not just the few.”

Stephanie Welch, New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty Workers’ Rights Director
“No one should have to choose between a paycheck and their health and safety. The Bernalillo County ordinance guarantees some paid time off for some workers. This is a start. All New Mexicans need the security of knowing they can take time off from work to care for themselves or their families and still get paid.”

Former owners of Kellys Brew Pub to pay servers $1,375,000 to settle wage theft lawsuit

ALBUQUERQUE—After a public hearing today, a court approved a class action settlement agreement that requires the former owners of Kellys Brew Pub and Restaurant to pay servers over a million dollars. Second Judicial District Court Judge Benjamin Chavez approved the settlement. 

The judge ruled in July 2019 that the former owners of Kellys violated Albuquerque’s minimum wage ordinance.

The former owners will pay one million of the agreed upon amount within 30 days. All parties agreed to additional time for the former owners to pay the remaining $375,000 and for the plaintiffs to investigate the former owners’ assets.

“This is money that should have been in our hands in the first place. It was ours. We earned it,” said Bianca Garcia, a plaintiff in the lawsuit. “If that money had never been taken from us, it could have made differences in where some of us are today. Those funds may have helped someone pay off a student loan. Buy a car. Move to a better situation. Support a family. But it was deliberately kept from us. We will continue to fight for what is rightfully ours.”

Under Albuquerque’s minimum wage ordinance, if employers fail to pay workers their full wage, they must pay triple the wages that were withheld as well as attorneys’ fees. The business and the business owners, executives, and officers can be liable. 

In his July 2019 ruling, Judge Chavez determined that because Kellys failed to follow the rules for paying the tipped minimum wage, the former owners owed their employees the full minimum wage for those hours worked. 

Sixteen servers, represented by Youtz & Valdez, P.C. and the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty, brought the class action lawsuit, Atyani v. Bonfantine, in April 2016 on behalf of about 150 former servers who worked at Kellys from 2013 to 2016. The lawsuit contends that after city voters overwhelmingly passed a ballot initiative in 2012 raising the Albuquerque minimum wage, Dennis and Janice Bonfantine “settled on an unlawful response to the wage increase: servers would pay for it themselves, out of their tips.” 

“Workers have the right to a fair and legal wage. This includes people who work for tips” said Stephanie Welch, director of workers’ rights at the Center. “Albuquerque has a strong law that holds employers accountable, whether or not there is a pandemic. Employers should know that if they don’t pay their employees a legal wage, they can be sued and end up paying much more in damages than if they had just paid their employees fairly.”

Kellys required servers to pay their employers cash each shift, calculated at two percent of their total daily sales, plus three dollars per hour they worked on the clock. After making these required payments to their employer, servers sometimes owed more in cash than they had actually earned in cash tips during the shift. When this happened, servers were required to pay the difference from their wallets or their paychecks. 

To defend against these claims, the Bonfantines argued that the Albuquerque minimum wage was invalid because it was increased through a voter initiative that put a summary of the wage increase on the 2012 ballot rather than the entire ordinance. In May 2017, the Second District Court rejected this argument, ruling that any challenge to how the 2012 election was conducted must have been made right after the election.

“We encourage every employee who is a victim of wage theft to come forward,” said Shane Youtz, an attorney at Youtz & Valdez, P.C. “You deserve to collect every dollar you worked for and are owed.“

Attorneys on the case are Stephanie Welch and Sovereign Hager of the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty and Shane Youtz and James Montalbano of Youtz & Valdez, P.C.

The settlement agreement approved today can be found here: http://nmpovertylaw.org/atyani-v-bonfantine-settlement-agreement-final-and-approved-2020-09-29/

The order on Atyani v. Bonfantine can be found here: http://nmpovertylaw.org/case-law-summary-judgement-order-atyani-v-bonfantine-2019-07-12/

The Atyani v. Bonfantine complaint can be found here: http://nmpovertylaw.org/complaint-kellys-final-2016-04-28-filed

Yazzie/Martinez plaintiffs present education plan to Legislative Finance Committee Friday

SANTA FE—On Friday, August 28, counsel for families, students, and school districts in the landmark Yazzie/Martinez education lawsuit will urge the state to develop and implement a comprehensive plan for overhauling New Mexico’s education system. Plaintiffs’ counsel will also share an assessment of deficiencies in the educational system. 

Detailed recommendations for how to reform the education system have been developed by hundreds of parents, families, tribal leaders, and educational experts and supported by research as detailed in the Transform Education NM platform for educational equity and a tribal remedy framework endorsed by New Mexico’s Pueblos, Tribes and Nations.

WHAT: 
LFC hearing on Yazzie and Martinez v. New Mexico plaintiffs plan to improve educational outcomes

WHO:
Counsel for Yazzie plaintiffs

  • Daniel Yohalem
  • Preston Sanchez, ACLU-NM
  • Melissa Candelaria, New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty
  • Alisa Diehl, New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty

Counsel for Martinez plaintiffs

  • Ernest Herrera, Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund 

WHEN: 
Friday, August 28, 2020 at 10:00 a.m.

REMOTE ACCESS:
Webcast live at www.nmlegis.gov

Court blocks attempt to end lawsuit on food and Medicaid assistance


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Immigrant rights organizations denounce Sheriff Gonzales’ collaboration with Trump’s shadow police force


ALBUQUERQUE –  Bernalillo County Sheriff, Manuel Gonzales III, announced Tuesday afternoon he will meet with President Trump and Attorney General William Barr at the White House on Wednesday to discuss BCSO’s efforts to “combat crime.” This news comes after CBS News published a memo detailing that the Department of Homeland Security is considering Albuquerque as one of a few cities where more than 175 federal officers could be deployed.

The following is a joint statement by community groups in Bernalillo County expressing opposition to Sheriff Gonzales’ meeting with the Trump administration and the possibility of deploying paramilitary forces in NM:

Systemic racism pervades every institution of government, and unfortunately law enforcement is often its executor as proven by their systemic violence, brutality, abuse, and killings of Black and Brown lives across the country as a way to carry out a white supremacist agenda.

We unequivocally denounce the possible deployment of Trump’s federal paramilitary force in a majority community of color; this action is simply another damaging tactic laced with xenophobic and anti-immigrant sentiment that does not make families safe. It is a ploy to distract the nation from the failures of the Trump administration during a global pandemic while further descending into a totalitarian regime in the U.S.

The relationship between local law enforcement and our communities is already a fractured one as our city and county have experienced a deep and persistent history of police brutality and abuse. Most recently highlighted with the shooting of an unarmed protester by Steven Baca, the son of a former Bernalillo County Sheriff.

Sheriff Manuel Gonzales’ meeting with the Trump administration will only exacerbate the distrust and fear our families carry day to day, keeping domestic abuse survivors or victims of wage theft silent out of fear of deportation.

We must denounce any attempt to deploy a paramilitary force to our city. We strongly object to the meeting between the Bernalillo County Sheriff and the Trump administration, and we strongly object to the deployment of this paramilitary force into our county and our city.

Signed: NM Dream Team, El CENTRO De Igualdad y Derechos, Partnership for Community Action, Encuentro, Organizers in the Land of Enchantment, Center for Civic Policy, New Mexico Immigrant Law Center, New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty, Enlace Comunitario

Yazzie/Martinez education lawsuit moves forward!

SANTA FE—First Judicial District Court Judge Matthew Wilson denied the State of New Mexico’s motion to dismiss the landmark Yazzie/Martinez ruling today, which found that the state was violating the public school students’ right to a sufficient education. The judge noted that the state, by its own admission, is not fulfilling its constitutional duty to provide a sufficient education to all students.

The judge stated, “The state cannot be deemed to have complied with this court’s order until it shows that the necessary programs and reforms are being provided to all at risk students to ensure that they have the opportunity to be college and career ready. There is a lack of evidence in this case that the defendants have substantially satisfied this court’s express orders regarding all at risk students. The court’s injunction requires comprehensive educational reform that demonstrates substantial improvement of student outcomes so that students are actually college and career ready.”

The judge continued, “The court agrees with the plaintiffs’ counsel that to dismiss this action now while implementation and compliance are merely in their initial stages would undermine the years of work by this court and the parties and leave the children of New Mexico in an educational system that may be below constitutional standards.”

The judge also stated that “the court will maintain jurisdiction in this case until defendants have actually overhauled the system and complied with the constitutional requirements.” 

In reaction to the decision today, Wilhelmina Yazzie, a plaintiff in the Yazzie lawsuit said “In our culture, children are sacred, and I’m overjoyed that the fight for their education will go on. Even before the pandemic, our schools were not getting what they needed. There weren’t enough books to go around then and now it’s even worse. Our teachers are doing all they can, but they can’t even reach all their students because so many families, especially those that live in rural areas, don’t have internet access. Unfortunately, we just can’t trust the state to do the right thing without the court intervening.” 

Yazzie continued, “It’s time for our leaders to be courageous and make real changes for our kids. All across the country, people are standing up against the inequities caused by hundreds of years of systemic racism. It’s time for our state to stop fighting the lawsuit and instead address the inequities in our schools.”

Judge Wilson approved a motion from the Martinez plaintiffs that allows time for discovery of evidence to investigate the state’s compliance with the court ruling.

Yazzie plaintiffs also asked the court at the hearing to order the state to develop a comprehensive plan to overhaul the public education system. The judge decided not to order a plan now and will wait to entertain the motion until after discovery is completed and more information is available. 

In 2018, the court ordered the state to provide educational programs, services, and funding to schools to prepare students so they are college and career ready. In October 2019, the Yazzie Plaintiffs filed a motion asking the court to order the state to develop a plan to come into compliance with the court’s ruling. In March 2020, the state filed a motion asking the court to dismiss the Yazzie/Martinez v. State of New Mexico lawsuit. The Yazzie case was brought on behalf of families and six school districts. 

Almost two years have passed since the landmark court ruling but very little has changed for students and families at the heart of the case – low-income families, students with disabilities, English language learners, and Native American students, who collectively make up roughly 80% of the New Mexico student population.

In their motion for a compliance plan the Yazzie plaintiffs provided the court evidence that almost two years after the court’s ruling students still lack access to technology and culturally relevant materials; thousands of English language learners lack certified teachers; extended learning and summer school still is not available for all students who need these programs; more than 25,000 three- and four-year-olds still don’t have access to quality Pre-K; and the state still fails to fund or implement the Bilingual Multicultural Education Act (1973), the Indian Education Act (2003), or the Hispanic Education Act (2010).

“We are relieved that the case will continue. Education costs a lot more during a health crisis. We didn’t have the support we needed before COVID-19, but now we really are in crisis,” said Mike Hyatt, Superintendent of Gallup McKinley County Schools. “Without question, student learning in our district, which is predominantly Native American, and across New Mexico will suffer this coming year because the state is not funding school districts based on our needs.”

The state’s motion to dismiss the case argued that the court should trust the state government, legislators, and the governor to fix the school system. Yazzie plaintiffs argued that politics have failed our children for many years and the state continues to violate the law even after three legislative sessions since the landmark court ruling. 

At the recent special session, the legislature passed a budget that underfunds education overall and will force schools to choose between spending on necessary changes to keep kids safe and able to continue learning during the COVID-19 pandemic or basic things like instructional materials and adequate salaries for educators. The federal CARES Act money will not cover all the COVID-related costs such as protective equipment for staff and students, reconfiguring bathrooms, ensuring more teaching staff in school, and online instruction, yet the legislature wants it to also be used for basic education programs.

“The pandemic is compounding deep and ongoing educational inequities that are a direct result of decades of complacency by the state that continued even after the court ruling,” said Preston Sanchez, an attorney with ACLU-NM working in cooperation with New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty that represents the Yazzie plaintiffs. (Sanchez was formerly staff with the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty when the litigation began). “Now more than ever, it’s important that the court continues to ensure the state is accountable to New Mexico’s students and families.”

A few days ago, the Annie E. Casey Foundation, released its annual report on child well being: New Mexico again ranks last.  

The Yazzie plaintiffs’ response brief with exhibits—including declarations in opposition to State of New Mexico’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit by the All Pueblo Council of Governors, Mescalero Apache Tribe, Navajo Nation’s Department of Dine Education, and Jicarilla Apache Nation (Exhibits A-D, pages 48-55)—can be found here: http://nmpovertylaw.org/yazzie-plaintiffs-response-states-mtd-with-exhibits-a-j-2020-05-01/

The February 2019 final judgment and order 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