Wage theft lawsuit concludes in win for New Mexico workers

 

Judge approves final class action settlement agreement in lawsuit brought by low-wage workers against the Department of Workforce Solutions for failing to enforce New Mexico’s wage payment laws

SANTA FE – Today, after hearing public testimony, First Judicial District Court Judge David K. Thomson approved a class action settlement agreement between workers and workers’ rights organizations and the Department of Workforce Solutions (DWS) that ensures state government will carry out its duty to enforce New Mexico’s strong anti-wage theft laws and hold employers accountable when they violate these laws.

“This is a victory for low-wage workers and proof that when we come together, we can hold powerful institutions accountable,” said Jose “Pancho” Olivas, a member of Somos Gallup, Somos Un Pueblo Unido’s membership team in McKinley County and lead plaintiff in the complaint. “For too long wage thieves were let off the hook. Because of this settlement, DWS will not only enforce our 2009 anti-wage theft law but will do more to ensure workers have a fair shot at recouping their stolen wages.”

The class action settlement agreement is a win for New Mexico workers and is the result of years of work by the workers and workers’ rights organizations who advocated for passage of a 2009 law imposing stronger anti-wage theft protections and who filed a 2017 lawsuit to require DWS to enforce those protections.

“We all deserve to be treated fairly by our employers and paid for every hour that we work,” said Elizabeth Wagoner of the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty, lead counsel for the plaintiffs. “DWS diligently worked with us on this settlement agreement to make sure that hardworking people who experience violations of New Mexico’s wage payment laws can access their legal right to an investigation of their claims and recover wages owed.”

“In 2009, low-wage workers came together to strengthen protections against wage theft in New Mexico,” said Gabriela Ibañez Guzmán, staff attorney with Somos Un Pueblo Unido’s Worker Center and co-counsel in the lawsuit. “This legislation passed both chambers with a wide margin because wage theft hurts everyone, workers, law-abiding businesses and local economies.  But our laws are only as good as the appropriate government agencies are willing to enforce them. This settlement sends a message that enforcement should be a priority.”

Now that the court has issued final approval of the settlement agreement, DWS will begin accepting requests from workers to re-investigate wage claims that DWS did not initially accept or correctly investigate. This includes workers who experienced the following problems:

  • DWS rejected or returned the claim form without investigating the claim;
  • DWS rejected, closed, or incompletely investigated the wage claim because of an unlawful $10,000 cap or one-year time limit;
  • DWS made a decision in favor of the employer for an improper jurisdictional reason;
  • DWS closed the wage claim after the employee or employer missed a deadline or hearing.

“When my sister and I went to the Department of Workforce Solutions to file our wage claims, we experienced problems communicating with the people in this office because they did not provide translation services,” said Sabina Armendariz, a low-wage immigrant worker, single mother, and member of El CENTRO de Igualdad y Derechos. “Now, all Spanish speakers will receive equal access to DWS services. This settlement agreement is an example of what can happen when low-wage workers organize to confront labor abuses and work to hold accountable the very government institutions entrusted with enforcing the laws. We encourage other workers to come forward and present their cases.”

Several workers plan on filing their wage theft complaints with DWS after the hearing.

“I look forward to filing my wage theft complaint along with three of my co-workers,” said Yesenia Sanchez, mother of three children and a member Somos Un Pueblo Unido’s United Worker Center. “I am happy to know that our complaints will be taken seriously and not be turned away.”

Beginning on March 16, DWS will also take several steps to notify workers about their rights, including running radio ads in English and Spanish, providing information about the wage claim process on the homepage of the DWS website, mailing notice to the class with instructions about the right to request a re-investigation, and posting notices in all DWS offices statewide.

The case, Olivas v. Bussey, was filed in January 2017 by four victims of wage theft and workers’ rights organizations El CENTRO de Igualdad y Derechos, New Mexico Comunidades en Acción y de Fé (CAFÉ), Organizers in the Land of Enchantment (OLÉ), and Somos Un Pueblo Unido. The plaintiffs claimed that DWS had failed to investigate and resolve wage claims concerning violations of New Mexico’s wage payment laws.

Plaintiff workers and organizations and DWS filed a joint motion on December 20, 2017 in the First Judicial District Court asking Judge Thomson to approve the class action settlement agreement.

“Language barriers should not be a reason why New Mexican workers suffer from wage theft. People with limited English language access should be kept fully informed by state government agencies such as DWS and should not have additional limitations when filing or pursuing wage theft claims. Our message is loud and clear; we will not rest until we end wage theft and labor abuses in New Mexico,” said Javier Castillo Chavez, a low-wage immigrant worker and member of El Centro who’s wage claim case was successful thanks to the new DWS regulations put in place because of the class action settlement agreement.

In addition to re-investigating prior wage claims and notifying workers of their rights, DWS has also implemented the following policies to end the practices challenged in the lawsuit:

  • LRD investigates all wage claims, regardless of their dollar value;
  • LRD takes enforcement action on wage claims going back three years, or longer if the violation is part of a continuing course of conduct;
  • Employers who fail to pay minimum or overtime wages must pay damages to wage claimants, calculated at three times the value of the unpaid wages;
  • LRD no longer closes wage claims for impermissible procedural reasons; and
  • LRD provides language access services to all wage claimants who need it by requesting each claimant’s language preference on the claim form, providing interpretation in each telephonic and in-person interaction, translating all form letters and claim forms into Spanish, allowing claimants to fill out claim forms in any language, and offering an interpreter to anyone who telephones the agency.

In addition, LRD has revamped its policies and procedures so that the agency is in compliance with the New Mexico wage laws. This includes the adoption of a publicly-available investigations manual that lays out how LRD enforces the law, which LRD and attorneys for the plaintiffs are writing together. Attorneys for the plaintiffs will also review worker case files to identify wage claims that LRD may consider for workplace-wide enforcement action.

People who experienced a problem with a wage claim at DWS should request a re-investigation or contact:

The notice of rights, claim form, and instructions for requesting a re-investigation will be available in a link from the DWS website homepage on or before March 16.

Elizabeth Wagoner of the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty is lead counsel on a legal team that includes the Center’s Gail Evans, Stephanie Welch, and Juan Martinez, Santa Fe attorney Daniel Yohalem, and Gabriela Ibañez Guzmán of Somos Un Pueblo Unido.

 

NM Financial Institutions Division releases small loans law regulations

ALBUQUERQUE, NM – This week, the New Mexico Financial Institutions Division (FID) released highly anticipated regulations on a law which imposed a 175% interest rate cap on small loans. In addition to capping small-dollar loan APR, the law (HB 347) which passed during the 2017 New Mexico legislative session, ensures that borrowers have the right to clear information about loan total costs, allows borrowers to develop credit history via payments made on small-dollar loans, and stipulates that all such loans have an initial maturity of 120 days and cannot be subject to a repayment plan smaller than four payments of loan principal and interest.

HB 347 and the proposed regulations signal progress for fair loan terms and a more inclusive economy for all New Mexicans by eliminating short term payday loans and enacting the first statutory rate cap on installment loans. But, while HB 347 is progress towards ensuring that all New Mexicans have access to fair credit, regardless of income level, the 175% APR cap required by HB 347 remains unfair, unnecessarily high, and will result in serious financial hardship to countless New Mexicans.

“The proposed regulations are a first step in giving all New Mexicans access to fair credit, but we still have a long way to go. In the past, storefront lending in the state was largely unregulated, and hardworking people were forced to borrow at interest rates as high as 1500% APR, forcing them into in a never-ending cycle of high-cost debt,” said Christopher Sanchez, supervising attorney for Fair Lending at the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty. “All New Mexicans deserve a chance to more fully participate in our state’s economy. We hope to see additional regulations that would improve disclosures and language regarding loan renewals so that all borrowers can understand the terms of their loans.”

Storefront loans have aggressively targeted low-income families and individuals, with sometimes quadruple-digit interest rates or arbitrary fees and no regard for a family or individual’s ability to repay.

“Coupled with high interest rates and unaffordable payments, predatory loans prevent New Mexican families from building assets and saving for a strong financial future. These kind of unscrupulous lending practices only serve to trap people, rather than liberate them from cycles of poverty and debt,” said Ona Porter, President & CEO of Prosperity Works. “Enforcing regulation and compliance is a critical step in protecting our families.”

The implementation and enforcement of HB 347, via regulation and compliance examinations by the FID, aims to finally allow all New Mexicans to more fully and fairly participate in New Mexico’s economy. The momentum surrounding this issue was recently accelerated when New Mexico Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich cosponsored the Stopping Abuse and Fraud in Electronic (SAFE) Lending Act to crack down on some of the worst abuses of the payday lending industry and protect consumers from deceptive and predatory lending practices.

The regulations released early this week are the first round of proposed regulations. Before FID releases the second round, the department will be accepting public comment, including at a public rule hearing on April 3 in Santa Fe.

Federal Court to hear Special Master’s findings on illegal barriers to food and medical assistance on Thursday

ALBUQUERQUE, NM — On Thursday, in U.S. District Court in Albuquerque, Judge Kenneth Gonzales will hold a hearing on the court-appointed Special Master’s report regarding the New Mexico Human Services Department’s failure to comply with multiple court orders to timely and accurately provide food and medical assistance to eligible families. The court ordered 20 high-level employees to be present at the hearing.

In September 2016, Judge Gonzales held the HSD Secretary Brent Earnest in contempt for failing to remove barriers to assistance for eligible families and appointed a Special Master to monitor and make recommendations to the department. The Special Master issued a report in January 2018 finding that “the current HSD/ISD management team lacks sufficient knowledge, skills, and abilities to appropriately manage the program or bring it into full compliance with the Consent Decree.” The Special Master recommended that HSD take immediate action, including removing five high-level employees from the division that administers food and medical assistance, appoint qualified experts, and improve worker training.

Despite court orders and the expertise provided by the Special Master, HSD continues to improperly deny eligible New Mexicans food and medical assistance. Each month the department develops a backlog of unprocessed cases, a large share of phone calls are not answered, and workers are not accurately trained on the requirements for processing food and medical assistance applications.

WHAT:  
Court hearing on the Special Master’s Report (Doc. 810) on HSD compliance with court orders in Deborah Hatten Gonzales v. Brent Earnest (No. 88-385 KG/CG) and the objections to the Special Master’s Report (Docs. 812 & 813)

WHEN:
Thursday, March 1, 2018 at 9:00 a.m.

WHERE:
Pete V. Domenici United States Courthouse
440 Hondo Courtroom
333 Lomas Boulevard, N.W.
Albuquerque, NM 87102

WHO:
New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty attorneys
Special Master Lawrence M. Parker and Compliance Specialist Ramona McKissic
HSD Secretary Brent Earnest
HSD Deputy Secretary and General Counsel Christopher Collins
Income Support Division Director Mary Brogdon
19 other HSD staff members were also ordered to attend, including county directors, regional operations managers, a former deputy secretary, and assistant general counsel

New Native American Budget and Policy Institute seeks to empower indigenous communities to effect systemic change

SANTA ANA PUEBLO, NM — The new Native American Budget and Policy Institute (the Institute) will launch at an event Tuesday at Tamaya Resort located in Santa Ana Pueblo. The Institute will conduct research, budget and policy analysis, social justice advocacy, litigation, and community lawyering to empower Native American communities to create self-determined and systematic change that will improve their health, education, and economic well-being.

The Institute is a project of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) Center for Health Policy of the University of New Mexico, and the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty. It is funded, in part, by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation (WKKF). The Institute is an outgrowth of the work and ideas of the Leadership Institute at the Santa Fe Indian School.

“Our Native American communities deserve to be healthy, educated, and empowered,” said Cheryl Fairbanks, Esq., Institute Interim Executive Director (Tlingit/Tsimpshian). “We have the opportunity at this Institute to develop indigenous policies, which will have a positive effect to justify and access the much needed funding for our tribes. We are not the Indian problem; we are the Indian solution. This Institute is solution oriented and will provide the basis for bringing constructive change to our children, families, and communities here in New Mexico.”

The Institute seeks to forge an unprecedented collaborative pathway to racial equity in New Mexico and across the nation. By working in cooperation with Native American scholars at UNM, graduates of the Pueblo Indian Doctoral Program, as well as with tribal elders, the Institute will coordinate research activity across the state to improve public policy decisions at all levels of government through a Native American lens. The Institute will work in cooperation with the Leadership Institute at the Santa Fe Indian School and utilize the resources available at UNM as well as the expertise of the RWJF Center for Health Policy and the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty. It will also engage and mentor young Native American researchers and students in a variety of projects.

“As indigenous peoples, we have survived systemic oppressive governmental policies that sought to terminate our languages, our culture, and our way of life. Today it’s important that laws and policies are informed with a tribal perspective in a new collaborative way,” said Alvin Warren, Kellogg Foundation Program Officer for New Mexico programs. “We have learned from past assimilation policies, and we can now move forward to effect change for future generations.”

The Institute will soon develop the initial leadership structure and strategic plan with direction from its Governance Council, sworn in today, which includes representatives from the Pueblos and Tribes of New Mexico with extensive experience in leadership, law, medicine, behavioral health, education, and cultural literacy.

“We are in a new era of developing laws and policies based on our tribal core values, which have withstood the test of time. We stand on the shoulders of our ancestors, and it is their values that will enable us to heal and move forward,” said Regis Pecos, Leadership Institute Co-Director at the Santa Fe Indian School and Native American Budget and Policy Institute Co-Founder (Cochiti). “The Institute will provide a venue for collaboration, healing, and unity. Together, we can move forward in the spirit of respect and understanding, so we can truly make a difference here in New Mexico.”

One of the new organization’s first activities is a series of meetings, “Keeping the Child at the Heart of the Circle,” with partners that will start Wednesday. The colloquia will focus on incorporating culture, tradition, and healing into judicial systems. For example, one meeting will discuss offering a resiliency court and a peace circle model as options to improve current legal processes. Another panel of experts will share their knowledge on tribal, state, and federal relations.

In addition to Fairbanks, Institute staff includes Jasmine Yepa, JD who serves as Policy and Budget Analyst (Jemez). The Institute’s Governance Council includes Robert Apodaca, Motiva Corporation COO, former U.S. Department of Agriculture Assistant Chief of the West under the Obama administration; Hon. Arthur Blazer, Mescalero Apache President (Mescalero Apache); Dr. Gayle Chacon, Jemez Health and Human Services Interim Director (Diné); Hon. Walter Dasheno, former Governor of Santa Clara Pueblo (Santa Clara); Tara Gatewood, Native America Calling Host and Producer (Isleta/Diné); Dr. Michael Lipsky, Demos Distinguished Senior Fellow; Dr. Ken Lucero, Field Officer for U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich (Zia/Cochiti); Patricia Salazar Ives, Esq.,Cuddy & McCarthy, LLP Partner; Dr. Joseph Suina, UNM College of Education Professor Emeritus and former Governor of Cochiti Pueblo (Cochiti); Ingeborg Vicenti, Dulce Public Schools Mental Health Therapist (Jicarilla Apache); and Hon. Robert Yazzie, Native Nations Institute International Advisory Council Member at the University of Arizona and Chief Justice Emeritus of the Navajo Nation (Diné).

The W.K. Kellogg Foundation has supported the work of the Institute through a grant to the Regents of UNM of $1.5 million for a period of five years. Dr. Gabriel R. Sanchez, RWJF Center for Health Policy Executive Director, serves as the Principal Investigator of the grant.

 

Proposed cuts to Medicaid in Trump budget would have devastating impact on New Mexico

ALBUQUERQUE, NM — The proposed cuts to Medicaid in the Trump administration’s budget for fiscal year 2019 would prevent hundreds of thousands of New Mexicans from accessing healthcare. The budget, if approved by Congress, would cut Medicaid by $1.4 trillion dollars between 2019-2028; eliminate critical funding for Medicaid expansion, which provides over 250,000 New Mexicans with healthcare coverage; and end subsidies that help individuals and families when buying insurance through the marketplace.

“The drastic cuts to Medicaid would make healthcare unaffordable for millions of Americans and hundreds of thousands of New Mexicans,” said Abuko D. Estrada, attorney for the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty. “After handing out tax cuts to the richest households, the administration now wants to cut Medicaid by over a trillion dollars in the next decade. This would devastate New Mexico’s budget or force our state to ration healthcare to children, the elderly, people with disabilities, pregnant women, and low-income adults.”

The budget proposes the same cuts to Medicaid as last year’s bills in Congress to repeal the Affordable Care Act. It would cut funding for Medicaid and restructure the program into a per capita cap system. This would give New Mexico a set amount of Medicaid funding to spend per person rather than a federal match for the state’s actual costs. If New Mexico’s Medicaid costs grow faster than the cap amount, the state would be forced to make deep cuts to Medicaid benefits, services, and even eligibility.

A study last year conducted by the UNM Robert Wood Johnson Health Policy Center found that the combined Medicaid cuts could cost New Mexico more than $400 million per year or cause more than 250,000 people to lose coverage.

The New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty responds to Trump’s proposed cuts to food assistance

ALBUQUERQUE, NM—The New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty condemns President Trump’s 2019 budget proposal that slashes the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps, by $213 billion. The proposal would replace SNAP food dollars for households receiving over $90 a month in benefits with a shelf stable box of foods. With the proposed 30 percent cut to the program over the next ten years, New Mexico would also stand to lose $207.9 million to the state economy.

The following quote can be attributed to New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty Managing Attorney Sovereign Hager:

“In New Mexico and in our country, we have a shared commitment to make sure that no one in our community goes hungry. It is shocking that this administration would propose a shameful budget that would literally take food off the table for our children and families. The cuts would have an outsized impact on our state where one in four New Mexicans participate in SNAP, including 40 percent of our kids. The cuts to these food benefits would not only mean that more New Mexicans won’t have enough to eat, they would also increase poverty and inequality and make it harder to succeed in today’s economy.

“By any measure, the SNAP program has been a huge success. It’s long been our first line of defense against hunger and has other positive economic and health outcomes. Research shows SNAP contributes positively to children’s brain development, and children who participate in SNAP are healthier, do better in school, and have increased earnings over time. SNAP also greatly contributes to our local economy through an exemplary public-private partnership. SNAP dollars are spent in local food retailers across New Mexico contributing hundreds of millions in economic activity.

“What’s more, the proposed replacement of electronic benefit cards with government-issued canned food strips people of the basic dignity of being able to buy their own groceries just like everybody else. Rather than shaming people, the government should be shoring up the SNAP program to make sure that our neighbors and families all have enough to eat. What this administration seems to be doing instead is suggesting that children, the elderly, and disabled people should fund tax cuts for the wealthy. Our members of Congress should reject this indefensible proposal.”

For more information on SNAP in New Mexico, go to: http://nmpovertylaw.org/proposed-budget-will-increase-hunger-and-inequality-in-nm-february-2018/

Groups sue MVD for denying non-REAL ID licenses & ID cards to eligible New Mexicans

SANTA FE, NM – Today, civil rights groups and homeless advocates filed a class action lawsuit against the New Mexico Taxation and Revenue Department (TRD) and the Motor Vehicles Division (MVD) on behalf of New Mexicans who were illegally denied Driver’s Authorizations Cards (DACs) and non-REAL ID identification cards, charging that the state has failed to fully and correctly implement its two-tiered driver’s license law.

The requirement of unnecessary documentation for DAC’s and non-federally compliant ID cards has caused chaos at local MVDs and major confusion and frustration for applicants across New Mexico. The lawsuit challenges MVD’s onerous and illegal regulations governing the issuance of non-REAL ID licenses and identification cards, including the illegal practices of requiring proof of identification number and not providing adequate due process to applicants who are denied.

The lead plaintiff, Santa Fe’s former Mayor David Coss, was denied a DAC four times at his local MVD because he lost his social security card, which is not a requirement under the law.  Coss, whose long-held driver’s license has since expired, was also not provided an adequate process to appeal the denial.

“A driver’s license and ID card are not luxuries,” said Coss at Monday’s press conference. “I’m the primary childcare provider to my toddler grandchildren, and I drive them around town. I’m also the guardian of my 86-year-old father who suffered a stroke last year. I need my license to carry out my daily responsibilities. I followed the law and took my paperwork into MVD before my license expired but was turned away every time. I know I’m not the only New Mexican dealing with this nightmare.”

Individual plaintiffs denied licenses and ID cards are joined by organizational plaintiffs, New Mexico Coalition to End Homelessness, and Somos Un Pueblo Unido (Somos) in the lawsuit. David Urias of Freedman Boyd Hollander Goldberg Urias & Ward, P.A. is the lead counsel on the legal team that includes attorneys from Somos, ACLU-NM, and the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty.

The plaintiffs include senior citizen, immigrant, and homeless individuals who need a license or ID to go to work or school, obtain housing, medical care or other necessities, but were illegally denied an MVD credential without written notice detailing the reasons for the denial or information about how to appeal it.

“It is quite common for people to lose their ID and other paperwork when they become homeless,” said Hank Hughes, executive director of New Mexico Coalition to End Homelessness. “Getting a new ID is essential for them as they get back on their feet. You cannot rent an apartment or even a motel room without an ID. We are asking MVD to follow the law and make it possible for people to replace lost or stolen IDs quickly.”

In 2016, Republican and Democratic legislators came together and created a two-tiered driver’s license system that gives New Mexicans the choice to opt in or out of the federal REAL ID Act. According to the law, the state must provide a REAL ID-compliant license or ID card to eligible residents who want it and can meet the federal government’s onerous requirements. An alternative non-REAL ID license or ID card for otherwise eligible applicants who do not meet the federal requirements or simply do not want a REAL ID, must also be made available.

“REAL ID was always a bad idea,” said Peter Simonson, executive director of ACLU-NM.  “The spirit of the 2016 bipartisan fix is not being honored. The Legislature understood just how difficult getting a REAL ID license would be for many New Mexicans. That is why legislators worked hard to ensure people had an alternative, especially vulnerable New Mexicans like people experiencing homelessness, Native Americans, undocumented immigrants, senior citizens and people living in in rural communities.”

“After a protracted six-year battle on driver’s licenses, the New Mexico Legislature voted to create an alternative to the REAL ID Act for all New Mexicans, not just immigrants,” said Marcela Díaz, executive director of Somos Un Pueblo Unido. “For over a year, we worked with allied groups throughout the state to educate the public about its rights and advocate for a better process at MVD. Everyone has done their job except this administration. Our goal with this lawsuit is to help resolve these issues quickly for all New Mexicans.”

“An identification card is a basic necessity to function in everyday life, but the MVD is illegally requiring unnecessary and overly burdensome documentation that most folks simply cannot come up with. The harm caused by the illegal requirements is compounded by the MVD’s failure to provide a way for New Mexicans to challenge an erroneous denial of driver’s license or ID card.” said Sovereign Hager, supervising attorney at the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty. “The MVD should follow the law rather than wrecking the lives of people who need an ID to drive, support their families, and find housing.”

The defendants in the lawsuit are the TRD, acting Cabinet Secretary John Monforte, MVD, and acting director Alicia Ortiz.

Click here to view a copy of the complaint: http://nmpovertylaw.org/coss-v-monforte-january-2018/

Click here to view plaintif profiles: http://nmpovertylaw.org/plaintiff-stories-coss-v-manforte-lawsuit/

‘NM Together for Healthcare’ launches campaign for affordable healthcare for all New Mexicans

Statewide effort includes an innovative Medicaid buy-in plan

ALBUQUERQUE, NM: On Friday, New Mexico organizations and individuals launched NM Together for Healthcare, a campaign to make good healthcare affordable for everyone in the state. The campaign includes an initiative to advance an innovative Medicaid buy-in plan to expand access to quality, affordable healthcare.

“We are all equal in deserving health care,” said Alfonso Yazzie, healthcare leader from Yah-ta-hey, New Mexico.

In the upcoming Legislative Session, NM Together for Healthcare will be supporting state Sen. Jerry Ortiz y Pino and state Rep. Debbie Armstrong’s memorials to explore a Medicaid buy-in plan for New Mexico. The buy-in—a concept that is gaining momentum nationally with similar bills introduced in Congress and currently in progress in Massachusetts, Illinois, and Iowa—opens up Medicaid to allow more consumers to buy low cost coverage through a Medicaid plan. This provides people with affordable health care and creates more choices in the insurance market.

“Our work will not be done until all New Mexicans have access to affordable, quality health care,” said Armstrong, chair of the House Health and Human Services Committee. “We need innovative policies like Medicaid buy-in to make sure all families are cared for.”

NM Together for Healthcare began its campaign after hearing from New Mexicans that despite recent improvements through the Affordable Care Act, quality health care is still out of reach for many.

“My father worked as a custodian for 30-plus years in the schools,” said Maximina Urritia, a healthcare leader from Anthony. “After retiring, both my parents fell ill. With no insurance, and a budget of $700 per month from my dad’s retirement, they knew they could not afford the medical attention or medications they needed. Without that care, they died too early. Healthcare would have saved my parents lives.”

Currently, more than 180,000 New Mexicans, like Maximina’s parents, don’t have healthcare coverage.

“No one should have to go without healthcare because it is too expensive,” said Sireesha Manne, healthcare supervising attorney at the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty, “Medicaid already helps more than 850,000 New Mexican children and families get comprehensive care, and could be opened up to everyone as a low-cost option. The buy-in plan is a promising solution.”

The campaign’s website can be found at: http://nmtogether4health.org/

Follow the campaign on Facebook @NMTogether4Healthcare and Twitter @NMT4HC.

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NM Together for Healthcare is a statewide, multiracial campaign of families and community organizations working together to strengthen healthcare access in New Mexico, supported by Strong Families New Mexico and New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty

 

 

Closing briefs filed in landmark education lawsuit against State of New Mexico

Education lawsuit asserts students’ state constitutional rights are being violated

SANTA FE, NM – Attorneys from the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty (the Center) and MALDEF (Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund) have filed closing briefs for their consolidated lawsuit (Yazzie v. State of New Mexico and Martinez v. State of New Mexico) against the State of New Mexico for its failure to provide all public school students a sufficient education as mandated by the New Mexico Constitution.

The consolidated lawsuits claim the state’s arbitrary and inadequate funding of public schools, and lack of necessary monitoring and oversight deprives children – particularly low-income, Native American and English language learner students, and students with disabilities – of a sufficient education.

Plaintiffs in the suit seek a declaration that the system is unconstitutional and that the system should provide the opportunity for all students to be ready for college and career. The trial for the consolidated lawsuit began on June 12, 2017 and concluded on August 4 after eight weeks of testimony.

The closing brief for Martinez v. New Mexico – filed in April 2014 on behalf of parents and public school children from Española, Santa Fe, Albuquerque, Zuni, Magdalena, Las Cruces and Gadsden – contends that the state is in violation of the Education Clause of the New Mexico Constitution because the state’s education system has failed to provide adequate resources, programs, and oversight for economically disadvantaged students, English language learner (ELL) students, and students with disabilities.

Additionally, the Martinez closing brief asserts that the state’s education system violates the Equal Protection Clause of the New Mexico Constitution by denying equal treatment to economically-disadvantaged and ELL students. For example, these students are generally taught by less experienced and less skilled teachers than other students. The closing brief also claims violation of the Due Process Clause of the New Mexico Constitution because the state’s irrational and unreasonable funding policies prevent students with disabilities, as well as ED and ELL students, from receiving a sufficient education.

“The evidence shows that the state’s failures are not just a matter of money or policy, but that the education system as a whole deprives at-risk students of the opportunity to be ready for college and career,” said Ernest I. Herrera, MALDEF staff attorney.

The closing brief for Yazzie v. State of New Mexico argues the evidence presented in the trial indisputably shows that most New Mexico students are not college, career, and civics ready. A majority of the state’s public school students have not been provided a sufficient education in order to be able to read, write, or do math at grade level, and the state also consistently has one of the lowest high school graduation rates in the country.

“These are not achievement gaps, attributable to shortcomings of our children, families, and educators,” said Gail Evans, legal director of the Center. “These are opportunity gaps attributable to a broken system that does not effectively serve our children.”

The Center asserts that the state fails to provide school districts with enough funding and support. For example, despite evidence that high quality preschool and extended learning opportunities like the K-3 Plus Program successfully closes achievement gaps, only a minority of children have access to those programs. Further, the closing brief claims New Mexico’s public education system is constitutionally insufficient for Native Americans, having failed to satisfy the New Mexico Indian Education Act (2003), which requires the state to provide Native students a culturally-relevant education, and to collaborate with tribes in doing so.

The Yazzie plaintiffs specifically seek an injunction requiring the state to take to take three actions: first, no later than the 2019-2020 school year, to develop a comprehensive plan of programs and services to provide a uniform and sufficient system of public education to all students in New Mexico; second, to provide sufficient increased funding and a revised formula for distributing funds to the public school districts; and lastly, to establish an effective system of accountability and enforcement to ensure that every child in New Mexico is receiving a sufficient education.

The state sought to dismiss the lawsuits, but the court in Martinez denied the request and ruled for the first time in New Mexico’s history that education is a fundamental right. The court consolidated the two cases in 2015.

State District Court Judge Sarah Singleton is expected to make a declaration this spring.

Teleconference: Closing Briefs Filed in Landmark Education Lawsuit Against State

MEDIA ADVISORY

 
WHAT:      
The New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty (the Center) and MALDEF (Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund) will hold a teleconference press briefing to discuss closing arguments for their consolidated lawsuit against the State of New Mexico (Yazzie v. State of New Mexico and Martinez v. State of New Mexico) for its failure to provide all public school students a sufficient education in violation of the New Mexico Constitution.

WHEN:   
Wednesday, January 10, 2018  at 10:30 a.m. MT

WHO:   
Gail Evans, Legal Director, the Center
Preston Sanchez, Attorney, the Center
E. Martin Estrada, Partner, Munger, Tolles & Olson LLP; Co-counsel, MALDEF
Ernest Herrera, Staff Attorney, MALDEF

DIAL-IN:     
1-800-672-0175

WHY:          
This landmark lawsuit asserts that the State of New Mexico’s inadequate funding of public schools and lack of necessary monitoring and oversight deprives children – particularly low-income, Native American and English language learner students – of the support necessary to be college, career, and civics ready.

Yazzie v. State of New Mexico was filed by the Center in March 2014 on behalf of a group of families and school districts including Gallup-McKinley, Rio Rancho, Santa Fe, Cuba, Moriarty/Edgewood, and Lake Arthur. The lawsuit was filed to remedy the state’s failure to provide New Mexico students with the educational services they need to succeed. The families represented have children who are English language learners (ELL), Native American or economically disadvantaged and have been negatively impacted by the lack of resources provided to New Mexico public schools.

Martinez v. State of New Mexico was brought on behalf of parents and public school children from Española, Santa Fe, Albuquerque, Zuni, Magdalena, Las Cruces and Gadsden. It was filed in April 2014 by MALDEF following extensive discussions with community groups, local leaders, and parents in New Mexico concerning chronic achievement gaps on standardized tests and other systemic failures.

The state sought to dismiss the lawsuits, but the court in Martinez denied the request and ruled for the first time in New Mexico’s history that education is a fundamental right. The court consolidated the two cases in 2015.

The trial for the consolidated lawsuit began on June 12, 2017 and concluded on August 4 after nine weeks of testimony. The lawsuit asks the court to declare the current system of public education constitutionally insufficient, and order the state to provide the programming and resources necessary for all public school students to succeed, as well as ensure that funds are distributed equitably, including for economically disadvantaged and ELL students.

 

The closing briefs for Martinez v. State of New Mexico and Yazzie v. State of New Mexico have been submitted.

The Martinez plaintiffs’ brief can be found at:

https://www.maldef.org/assets/pdf/Martinez_Closing_Arguments_In_Chief.pdf

The Yazzie plaintiffs’ brief can be found at:

http://nmpovertylaw.org/yazzieclosingbrief-2018-01-09-final

A summary of the Yazzie brief can be found at: http://nmpovertylaw.org/yazzie-closing-brief-summary-2018-01-09/

Stamped copies will be available once the court provides them. Note briefs are embargoed until Wednesday, January 10th at 11:30 a.m. MT.

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The mission of the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty is to advance economic and social justice through education, advocacy, and litigation. The Center works with low-income New Mexicans to improve living conditions, increase opportunities, and protect the rights of people living in poverty. Underlying its mission is a vision of New Mexico without poverty, where all peoples’ basic human rights are met. For more information on the Yazzie lawsuit, including plaintiff profiles, please visit: http://nmpovertylaw.org/our-work/education-2/. For media inquiries, please contact Maria Archuleta at (505) 255-2840 or Maria.A@nmpovertylaw.org.

Founded in 1968, MALDEF is the nation’s leading Latino legal civil rights organization. Often described as the “Latino Legal Voice for Civil Rights in America,” MALDEF promotes social change through advocacy, communications, community education and litigation in the areas of education, employment, immigrant rights and political access. For more information on MALDEF, please visit: www.maldef.org. For media inquiries, please contact Sandra Hernandez at (213) 629-2512 ext. 129 or shernandez@maldef.org.