Court orders CYFD to lawfully manage Child Care Assistance Program

Department increased eligibility levels after families sued last year

SANTA FE—Working families will have increased access to much needed child care assistance as a result of a court order approving an agreement between working families and the New Mexico Children, Youth and Families Department. The order, entered by the First Judicial District Court in Santa Fe yesterday, mandates that CYFD will follow the law in managing New Mexico’s Childcare Assistance Program.

“Every family deserves access to quality child care while parents are at work or in school,” said Maria Griego, supervising attorney at the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty. “Only a third of eligible families in New Mexico currently access child care assistance because the application process and eligibility requirements are inconsistent and confusing. The settlement is a critical opportunity for CYFD to improve the well-being of children. We look forward to working with this administration to fix long standing barriers.”

Several families and OLÉ, represented by the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty, sued the department in September 2018, charging that CYFD illegally established a policy of denying child care assistance to families with incomes over 150% of the federal poverty level—a yearly income of $31,170 for a family of three—without publishing a regulation or going through the required public comment and hearing process. The lawsuit also argued that CYFD illegally failed to provide adequate notice to families about their child care benefits or establish a regulation that explains how CYFD determines the share of costs the family has to pay.

After the lawsuit, CYFD immediately increased eligibility for child care assistance to families with incomes up to 200% of the federal poverty level.

The court order requires CYFD to:

  • Maintain the current eligibility level until or unless CYFD lawfully passes regulations with public comment with a different eligibility level;
  • Put into regulation child care assistance eligibility requirements, including how CYFD calculates the amount of costs shared by parents;
  • Revise notices and forms that families receive or fill out in the application process;
  • Revise the manual CYFD workers use to determine eligibility for assistance;
  • Post eligibility information and application rights in all CYFD offices.

“We know that the earliest years in children’s lives are the most important in their development and lay the foundation for all that is to come,” said Traeshaun Buffin a community organizer at OLÉ. “The astronomical costs of child care prevent tens of thousands of New Mexican families with children from accessing meaningful work and educational opportunities. We’re so pleased that CYFD has agreed to stop denying eligible families the child care assistance they need and to adopt standards with public input to make the program affordable and predictable.”

The court order can be found here: http://nmpovertylaw.org/9-order-torres_2019_05_06/

The Torres v. Jacobson complaint can be found here: http://nmpovertylaw.org/torres-v-jacobson-first-amended-complaint-with-exhibits/

Bill guaranteeing basic wage protections for home care and domestic workers signed into law

SANTA FE—Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham signed a bill into law that ensures home care and domestic workers—the people who clean homes and deliver care for others—are protected by New Mexico’s minimum wage standards and other wage protections. Senate Bill 85, Domestic Service in Minimum Wage Act, is sponsored by Sen. Liz Stefanics and Rep. Christine Trujillo.

“This is a historic win for domestic and home care workers,” said Carlota Muñoz, a member of El CENTRO de Igualdad y Derechos. “During my employment at a cleaning service company, I stopped receiving payments for the hours I was working. I felt helpless and felt my work was not being given any respect. I am proud of the services I provide for my community, and I am glad to see this law go into effect that will provide workers like me more protections and assurance that their work will be valued like any other.”

Domestic workers have been left out of many labor protections throughout history, and typically have very few options when they’re not paid. SB 85 ends the exemptions for domestic workers from New Mexico’s wage laws—as has already been done at the federal level.

“We are proud of the work that domestic workers provide,” said Alicia Saenz, also a member of El CENTRO de Igualdad y Derechos. “There is nothing more important than taking care of New Mexico’s children, elderly, and family members with disabilities. It is invisible work, fraught with exploitation such as wage theft, and historically, our work has not been given the value it deserves. SB 85 is a step in the right direction to remedy that and to extend protections to enable us to assert our rights. We will continue to organize domestic workers and low-wage workers until all workers are treated with the dignity and respect that we deserve.”

New Mexico law generally requires employers to pay employees minimum wage and overtime, keep records, and pay employees in full and on time. However, like other wage laws enacted in the 1930s, it excluded large categories of work typically performed by women and people of color from the minimum wage and other protections.

“Domestic workers and home care workers have difficult and important jobs that we depend on,” said Stephanie Welch, supervising attorney at the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty. “This legislation eliminates outdated, discriminatory practices in New Mexico so people doing some of the toughest jobs, like caring for others’ loved ones and cleaning houses, are treated fairly and can seek recourse when they are not.”

Federal law eliminated its exclusion of domestic workers years ago, but lacking state protections, New Mexicans who work in people’s homes were not protected and subject to low or no pay and exploitative situations.

With the passage of SB 85 into law, domestic and home care workers will now be covered by New Mexico’s wage laws, and the New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions can investigate their complaints, enforce their rights, and recover their wages and damages.

“The New Mexico Legislature recognized that it’s high time to ensure all workers, including people who work hard in other people’s homes, are guaranteed fundamental labor protections just like everyone else,” said Adrienne R. Smith of New Mexico Caregivers Coalition. “Domestic workers’ historical exclusion from the federal labor laws is an ugly vestige of slavery. The federal government righted that wrong years ago. We are overjoyed that today New Mexico has finally done so as well.”

The New Mexico Senate passed SB 85 on February 18. The House of Representatives passed it on March 12.

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The New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty is dedicated to advancing economic and social justice through education, advocacy, and litigation. We work with low-income New Mexicans to improve living conditions, increase opportunities, and protect the rights of people living in poverty.

The New Mexico Caregivers Coalition advocates for direct care workers’ education, training, benefits, wages and professional development so they may better serve people who are elderly and those with disabilities.

El CENTRO de Igualdad y Derechos is a grassroots, Latino immigrant-led organization based in Central New Mexico that works with Latino immigrant communities and allies to defend, strengthen, and advance the rights of our community.

Governor signs bill to help rural school districts improve bilingual, multicultural education

HB 111 will support teachers with training to better serve culturally and linguistically diverse students, particularly in rural New Mexico

SANTA FE—Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham signed Representative Salazar’s HB 111, Cultural and Linguistic Education Support, funding Regional Education Cooperatives (RECs) to provide professional development to staff and teachers for culturally and linguistically responsive instruction.

“New Mexico is not like other states. Our diversity is our strength and it presents unique opportunities for how we leverage our multicultural and multilingual heritage to improve learning outcomes for students, regardless of their zip code,” said Rebecca Blum Martinez, professor and bilingual/ESL director, Department of Language, Literacy, & Sociocultural Studies, University of New Mexico’s College of Education. “Our education system has long been inequitable and unresponsive to the cultural and linguistic needs of our students, which research shows is critical to enabling students to learn and do well in school.”

HB 111 builds the capacity for Regional Education Cooperatives (RECs) to provide professional development for educators on culturally and linguistically responsive instruction. The bill provides funding for RECs to contract with local experts to offer strategies and techniques to most effectively teach culturally and linguistically diverse learners.

“Diverse students and their teachers across rural New Mexico face distinct challenges, only further compounded by the lack of training opportunities in multilingual and multicultural education,” said Edward Tabet-Cubero with Transform Education NM. “HB 111 creates a pathway for RECs to better serve students and improve outcomes.”

HB 111 is one key component of the Transform Education NM coalition platform to improve education outcomes for all New Mexico students. The platform is grounded in a multicultural, multilingual framework to reverse years of inadequate state investment in public education and close achievement gaps for New Mexico’s students, especially low-income, Native American, English-language learners, and students with disabilities. 

The bill’s primary sponsor was Representative Tomas Salazar and co-sponsors were Representative Linda Trujillo and Representative Derrick Lente.

Information on the Transform Education NM platform can be found here: https://transformeducationnm.org/our-platform/.  

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Transform Education NM is a coalition of educational leaders, families, tribal leaders, and the lawsuit plaintiffs working to transform the state’s education system for our students. To learn more, visit www.transformeducationnm.org.

Governor signs bill closing loopholes in small loans law

SANTA FE—Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham signed a bill today cleaning up state law that regulates storefront lenders. House Bill 150, Installment & Small Loan Changes, sponsored by Representative Georgene Louis, protects New Mexico borrowers by ensuring accountability and transparency in the storefront lending industry.

“Today we’ve made great progress toward fairness and transparency for New Mexican borrowers,” said Lindsay Cutler, attorney at the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty. “HB 150 cleans up loopholes in state law by requiring lenders to report relevant data to the state and aligns our small loan laws so all New Mexico families can receive fairer loans.”

New Mexico’s first across-the-board interest rate cap went into effect in January 2018, capping interest rates on storefront loans at 175 percent APR. However, high fees and loan rollovers continue to drain income from New Mexico borrowers. The two laws that regulate storefront lenders, the Small Loan and Bank Installment Loan Acts, still contain inconsistent fee and disclosure provisions, do not require sufficient reporting to the state’s Financial Institutions Division to enforce consumer protections, and do not make clear borrowers’ rights on loan renewals.

Starting January 1, 2020, HB 150 will:

  • Require lenders to provide relevant data on small loans, enabling the FID to verify storefront lenders are adhering to small loans law and for the state to evaluate how the law is impacting New Mexicans;
  • Allow borrowers 24 hours to rescind a high-interest loan;
  • Align fee provisions and disclosure requirements in the Small Loan and Bank Installment Loan Acts so consumer protections are consistent for all borrowers;
  • Protect New Mexican borrowers from potential loopholes when they renew or rollover loans by clarifying the definition of new loans; and
  • Align the penalties for violating the small loan laws and the language around the Unfair Practices Act to ensure that companies are held accountable for unfair, deceptive and unconscionable practices.

“The small loan industry makes hundreds of millions of dollars from hardworking New Mexico families,” said Cutler. “HB 150 goes a long way to make sure our small loan law is clear of ambiguities and provides meaningful consumer protections that hold small loan companies accountable. Small loan reform is absolutely necessary if we hope to stop predatory lending practices.”

New Mexico workers celebrate statewide minimum wage increase

SANTA FE–On Monday, dozens of New Mexico workers and their families gathered to celebrate as Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham signed into law a proposal that would increase the state minimum wage for the first time in over ten years.

Senate Bill 437, approved by the House of Representatives and the Senate, progressively increases the minimum wage from $7.50 to $12 per hour by 2023. Starting January 2020, the state minimum wage would be raised to $9, $10.50 in 2021, $11.50 in 2022 before settling at $12 per hour in 2023.

The newly signed law also contains the following provisions:

  • Gradually increases the “tipped credit” for tipped employees from the current $2.13 per hour to $3 per hour by 2023
  • Allows for a new sub-minimum wage for students at $8.50 per hour
  • Does not include an annual cost of living adjustment

Raising the minimum wage to $12.00/hr by 2023 would directly affect 150,901 workers or nearly 20 percent of the total workforce in the state. Directly affected workers would receive an annual increase of approximately $1,114.

A statewide minimum wage coalition mobilized hundreds of workers from across New Mexico during the session in support of a wage increase.

Below are reactions from low-wage workers and community organizations across New Mexico in celebration of the statewide minimum wage increase:

“Last month the legislature did it’s part to increase family economic security in New Mexico and today the governor fulfilled her gubernatorial campaign promise to raise the state’s minimum wage to get workers–who are the backbone of our state– one step closer to a livable wage,” said Margarita Castruita Flores a member of El CENTRO de Igualdad y Derechos. “With a salary of $12 an hour I could earn approximately $112 more per week, something that could help me pay for one of my utility bills, which I have trouble paying with my current wage. We are proud of the contributions low-wage workers like me provide to our state and we will continue our fight to ensure ALL workers in New Mexico have the opportunity to thrive.”

“Today is a victory for hard working New Mexicans who deserve a raise. We thank the Governor for signing this bill into law,” said J.D. Mathews, Political Director for New Mexico Working Families. “This is an important step towards economic security and ending poverty in our state. Our commitment to all workers receiving a living wage continues”.

“After ten years of wage stagnation, I am so happy to see our state finally moving in the right direction. This raise will give twelve thousand dollars to workers who seriously need and deserve it,” said Lauren Shimamoto, Albuquerque service worker and member of OLÉ. “Thank you Governor Lujan-Grisham for signing this bill, it’s a great first step towards a living wage and a thriving New Mexico.”

“When workers are compensated fairy, everyone wins,” said Marcela Diaz, Executive Director for Somos Un Pueblo Unido. “$12 per hour will go along way to helping working families, rural communities and local economies prosper. By signing this bill, Governor Lujan Grisham recognizes just how essential workers are to our state’s future.”

“Today New Mexican workers achieved a great victory. For a decade, they’ve seen their spending power decrease, as the minimum wage stayed the same and the cost of living went up,” said Stephanie Welch, supervising attorney at the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty. “They deserve wages that allow them to provide for themselves and their families. They won this raise by coming together from all across the state to demand fair wages and respect for their hard work. 

*** Video and photos from the bill signing and worker-led celebration can be found here, here, here & here.

New Mexico Families Celebrate Legislature’s Funding Medicaid Buy-in

Money Appropriated to Study, Develop Innovative Health Coverage Plan

SANTA FE—New Mexico Together for Healthcare on Saturday celebrated a big win for New Mexico families after the Legislature adjourned having appropriated funding to the Human Services Department to further study and begin the administrative development of a Medicaid Buy-in plan, including pursuing federal funding to help pay for it.

“This is a tremendous step forward,” said Strong Families New Mexico Field Director Adriann Barboa. “Because of the leadership of the New Mexico Legislature, our state is leading the nation in moving forward toward creating a Medicaid Buy-in plan so that all families can access quality, affordable healthcare coverage.”

Between the two “Junior” spending bills, SB 536 and HB 548, the Legislature allocated $142,000 for Fiscal Year 2020 for the “study and administrative development of a Medicaid Buy-in plan.”

Initial study of a potential Medicaid Buy-in plan in New Mexico, which was called for by memorials passed in the 2018 legislative session, showed that a buy-in is a cost-effective way to insure the thousands of New Mexicans who are currently without coverage. The additional study called for by the Legislature this year will build on previous research and specifically explore ways to set up the plan to cover the most people possible. The “administrative development” component allows HSD to prepare to implement Medicaid Buy-in, including seeking federal waivers to receive federal financing for the plan.

“No New Mexican should go without healthcare because they cannot afford it,” said Abuko D. Estrada, Supervising Attorney for Healthcare with the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty. “Without health insurance coverage, though, 190,000 New Mexicans currently have to choose between putting food on the table and seeing a doctor. With the Legislature’s support for Medicaid Buy-in, families will no longer have to make those impossible choices.”

Maria Burciaga, a promotora from Sunland Park, applauded the Legislature for appropriating the funding.

“With many other families, my brother-in-law and I spent as much time as we could over the past two months in Santa Fe talking with legislators, testifying in committees and educating people about Medicaid Buy-in,” Burciaga said. “This funding shows that the Legislature listened to the people. New Mexicans need access to affordable healthcare.”

In addition to the families who spoke out at the Legislature, recent statewide polling found strong support, regardless of political affiliation, for Medicaid Buy-in in New Mexico.

The Medicaid Buy-in is a healthcare coverage plan that would be administered by the state and would allow eligible New Mexico residents to pay affordable monthly premiums to receive the same trusted health coverage that Medicaid has provided for more than 50 years.

“For too long too many New Mexicans have had to choose between paying their bills and getting the healthcare they need,” Colin Baillio, Director of Policy and Communication with Health Action NM said. “New Mexicans—and the members of Legislature–know that it’s time for a change. With this investment in developing a Medicaid Buy-in plan, we will create the change families need and deserve.”

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NM Together for Healthcare is a statewide, multiracial coalition of families and community organizations working together to strengthen healthcare access in New Mexico, supported by Strong Families New MexicoNew Mexico Center on Law and Poverty, Health Action New Mexico and United States of Care. The campaign’s website is http://nmtogether4health.org/ Follow the campaign on Facebook @NMTogether4Healthcare and Twitter @NMT4HC.

New Mexico workers win significant wage increase

Santa F.–New Mexico workers and their families celebrated on Friday after the House of Representatives and the Senate agreed to a legislative compromise reached in conference committee that will raise the state’s minimum wage for the first time in over 10 years. The proposal now heads to the governor’s desk for final signature.

A statewide minimum wage coalition mobilized hundreds of workers from across New Mexico during the session in support of a wage hike, coalescing around Rep. Miguel García’s (D-Bernalillo) $12 minimum wage bill (HB 31).

During a conference committee late Thursday night between members of the House and Senate, led negotiations in a final compromise that:

  • Gradually increases state minimum wage to $12 an hour by 2023
  • Gradually increases the “tipped credit” for tipped employees to $3 an hour by 2023
  • Allows for a new sub-minimum wage for students at $8.50 an hour
  • Does not include an annual cost of living adjustment

Below are reactions from low-wage workers and community organizations across New Mexico:

“This is a victory for New Mexico’s working families and came about as a result of years of organizing efforts lead by low-wage workers,” said Margarita Castruita Flores a member of El CENTRO de Igualdad y Derechos. “We are proud of the contributions that low-wage workers make to our State and this compromise bill is a step in the right direction for our families to obtain financial stability. There is still a lot of work ahead and we will continue to organize our communities to obtain a living wage for all workers in New Mexico.

“Workers and champions like Rep. Miguel Garcia refused to give up,” said Marcela Diaz, Executive Director for Somos Un Pueblo Unido. “By raising the minimum wage, the legislature finally recognized that workers are the backbone of New Mexico’s economy and should be compensated fairly. Getting to $12 per hour will make a big difference for our families in rural communities and local economies.”

OLÉ member Cristal Carter said, “$12/hour by 2023 is a big win for ALL hardworking New Mexico families. We fought hard for this and it shows. Families will now have the stability they need to thrive in our communities because over 200,000 workers across the state of New Mexico will receive the raise they deserve.”

“An increase in the minimum wage will mean a better living situation for the folks in our community who need it the most — people working hard, full time and still on the brink of poverty. It was more difficult than it should have been for the voices of workers to be heard at the legislature and we will continue to stand shoulder to shoulder in the fight for a living wage and true economic security for families across New Mexico,” said J.D. Mathews, State Political Director for New Mexico Working Families Party.

“This victory is the result of workers from all across New Mexico coming together to push for wages that respect their work and allow them to provide for themselves and their families,” said Stephanie Welch, a supervising attorney at the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty. “The increase will help people who receive the lowest wages in the state finally recover some of their lost spending power. It was high time they saw a raise. The cost of living has gone up over the last 10 years, but the minimum wage stayed flat.” 

Bill closing loopholes in small loans law awaits governor’s signature

SANTA FE—The New Mexico Senate passed a bill today cleaning up state law that regulates storefront lenders. House Bill 150, Installment & Small Loan Changes, protects New Mexico borrowers by ensuring accountability and transparency in the storefront lending industry. The bill now awaits Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham’s signature for approval.
 
“Everyone deserves fairness and transparency when taking out a loan,” said Lindsay Cutler, attorney at the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty. “HB 150 cleans up loopholes in state law by mandating effective data reporting to the state and providing consistency so all New Mexico families can receive fairer loans.”

New Mexico’s first across the board interest rate cap went into effect in January 2018, capping interest rates on storefront loans at 175 percent APR. However, high fees and loan rollovers continue to drain income from New Mexico borrowers. The two laws that regulate storefront lenders, the Small Loan and Bank Installment Loan Acts, still contain inconsistent fee and disclosure provisions, do not require sufficient reporting to the state’s Financial Institutions Division to enforce consumer protections, and do not make clear borrowers’ rights on loan renewals.

If signed into law, HB 150 would:

Require lenders to provide effective data on small loans, enabling the FID to verify storefront lenders are adhering to small loans law and for the state to evaluate how the law is impacting New Mexicans;

  • Allow borrowers 24 hours to rescind a high-interest loan;
  • Align fee provisions and disclosure requirements so consumer protections are consistent for all borrowers;
  • Protect New Mexican borrowers from potential loopholes when they renew or rollover loans by clarifying the definition of new loans; and
  • Align the penalties for violating the small loan laws and the language around the Unfair Practice Act to ensure that companies are held accountable for unfair and deceptive and unconscionable practices.

“The small loan industry makes hundreds of millions of dollars from hardworking New Mexico families,” said Cutler. “ We need our laws to be clear of ambiguities and provide meaningful consumer protections that hold small loan companies accountable. We’re optimistic that the governor will sign the bill. Small loan reform is absolutely necessary if we hope to stop predatory lending practices.”

Bill guaranteeing basic wage protections for home care and domestic workers awaits governor’s signature

SANTA FE— Today, the New Mexico House of Representatives passed Senate Bill 85, sponsored by Sen. Liz Stefanics and Rep. Christine Trujillo, which would ensure home care and domestic workers—the people who clean homes and deliver care for others—are protected by New Mexico’s minimum wage standards and other wage protections. The bill will now go to Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham’s desk for approval.

Domestic workers have been left out of many labor protections throughout history, and typically have very few options when they’re not paid. SB 85, Domestic Service in Minimum Wage Act, ends the exemptions for domestic workers from New Mexico’s wage laws—as has already been done at the federal level.

“Domestic workers and home care workers have difficult and important jobs that we depend on,” said Stephanie Welch, supervising attorney at the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty. “SB 85 eliminates outdated, discriminatory practices in New Mexico’s labor protections so people doing some of the toughest jobs like caring for our loved ones and cleaning our houses are treated fairly, and can seek recourse when they are not.”

New Mexico law generally requires employers to pay employees minimum wage and overtime, keep records, and pay employees in full and on time. However, like other wage laws enacted in the 1930s, it excluded large categories of work typically performed by women and people of color from the minimum wage and other protections. The New Mexico Legislature has recognized that it’s time to ensure all workers, including people who work hard in other people’s homes, are guaranteed fundamental labor protections just like everyone else.

“We are optimistic that Governor Lujan Grisham will sign SB 85 into law, guaranteeing domestic workers are no longer ignored in the eyes of the law,” said Adrienne R. Smith of New Mexico Caregivers Coalition. “Cleaning houses and taking care of elderly people or children demands dedication, time, and experience. The people who are in these life-saving roles deserve our respect and the same protections as all other workers.”

Federal law has since eliminated its exclusion of domestic workers, but without state protections, New Mexicans who work in people’s homes are not protected and may be subject to low or no pay and exploitative situations. If domestic workers were covered by New Mexico’s wage laws, the New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions would investigate their complaints, enforce their rights, and recover their wages and damages.

Memorial to expand home visiting services passed by Senate Public Affairs Committee

SANTA FE— A memorial establishing an advisory council to develop a plan for the statewide expansion of a Medicaid-financed home visiting system in New Mexico, will head to the Senate floor following a “do-pass” vote today in the Senate Public Affairs Committee. Home visiting programs provide support and critical assistance for families that range from health care to emotional and social supports at a crucial time in a child’s brain development. Senate Memorial 117, Medicaid Home Visiting Program Council, is sponsored by Senator Linda M. Lopez.

“Every child deserves the best start from birth. Nurturing our state’s youngest children is key to ensuring they grow up healthy and prepared to succeed in life,” said William Townley, attorney at the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty. “We’re optimistic that the memorial will pass the Senate.”

If passed by the New Mexico Senate, SM 117 would convene a council of home visiting providers and heads of the Human Services Department, Children, Youth and Families Department, Department of Health, and the Children’s Cabinet to make recommendations for expanding home visiting across the state through Medicaid financing.

Research shows that home visiting helps establish a strong foundation for families so children can grow up healthier and parents can develop stronger parenting skills. Home visiting programs that currently exist in New Mexico provide a team of professionals to help families learn about healthcare, child development, and parenting skills. Other services can include screening mothers for postpartum depression, supporting breastfeeding, and connecting families to community activities.

Unfortunately, most New Mexican families do not have access to home visiting services. Most services are offered by private non-profits that cannot scale up to meet the large unmet need in the state.

“Offering education early in a child’s life is essential in helping families succeed,” said Townley. “It would be good for everyone in New Mexico if more families could access home visiting.”