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.”

House passes bill closing loopholes in small loans law

SANTA FE—The New Mexico House of Representatives passed a bill today cleaning up state law that regulates storefront lenders. HB 150 protects New Mexico borrowers and ensures accountability and transparency in the storefront lending industry.
 
“All New Mexicans deserve access to fair and transparent loans under reasonable terms, but unfortunately, the current law has loopholes that fail to carry out the legislature’s intent to protect borrowers,” said Lindsay Cutler, attorney at the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty. “HB 150 proposes effective data reporting requirements and consistency in consumer protections for all borrowers, ensuring New Mexico families receive fairer loans and that the state can better monitor storefront lenders.”

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. Yet 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 language provisions, do not require sufficient reporting to the Financial Institutions Division to enforce consumer protections, and do not make clear borrowers’ rights on loan renewals.

If passed by the Senate and 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 evaluate how the law is impacting New Mexicans;
  • Allow borrowers 24 hours to rescind a high-interest loan;
  • Align fee provisions, disclosure requirements, and penalty provisions so consumer protections are consistent for all borrowers; and
  • Define what it means to make a new loan to protect New Mexican borrowers from potential loopholes in loan rollovers and renewals.

“The small loan industry makes hundreds of millions of dollars from hardworking New Mexico families,” said Cutler. “The House has taken an important step in passing HB 150 and we are optimistic that the Senate will follow suit. We cannot allow lenders to continue to circumvent protections put in place two legislative sessions ago. Small loan reforms are absolutely necessary if we hope to meaningfully stop predatory lending practices.”

Senate passes bill guaranteeing basic wage protections for domestic workers

SANTA FE— Today, the New Mexico Senate passed SB 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.

Historically, domestic workers have been left out of many labor protections and have little recourse when not paid. SB 85, Domestic Service in Minimum Wage Act, removes exemptions for domestic workers from New Mexico’s wage laws—as has already been done at the federal level.

“Everyone deserves to be paid a fair wage for their work,” said Stephanie Welch, supervising attorney at the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty. “SB 85 would eliminate archaic and discriminatory treatment in New Mexico’s labor protections so people who work hard in other people’s homes and as caregivers 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.

“Domestic workers deserve the same protections as other workers” said Adrienne R. Smith of New Mexico Caregivers Coalition. “Cleaning houses and taking care of people demands dedication, time, and experience. It’s time we changed how we value this work and the people who perform it.”

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 N.M. Department of Workforce Solutions would investigate their complaints, enforce their rights, and recover their wages and damages.

The bill will now be assigned to a committee in the House of Representatives for consideration.

Court issues final ruling in landmark education lawsuit

Legislature’s proposed funding will not meet court’s mandate for transformation of education system

ALBUQUERQUE—Late Thursday, First Judicial District Court Judge Sarah Singleton issued a final ruling in Yazzie/Martinez v. State of New Mexico. The court found that the state has violated students’ constitutional rights to a sufficient education and ordered the state to provide educational programs, services, and funding to schools to prepare students so they are college and career ready.

The current proposed funding for education under discussion in the New Mexico Legislature will not suffice to meet the court’s mandate.

Current New Mexico Legislature education funding proposals are asking for an increase of $400 to $500 million—which amounts to a 15-18 percent increase in public school funding. Evidence at trial showed that public schools are receiving less funding now than in 2008, when adjusting for inflation. That data has since been updated to show that an increase of $409 million would only return New Mexico to 2008 education funding levels. In 2008, New Mexico was ranked at the bottom in the country in reading and math proficiency and was clearly not in compliance with New Mexico’s constitutional requirement. Reverting funding back to 2008 resources levels does not meet the court’s mandates to sufficiently fund programs and services for our children

“New Mexico’s students are legally entitled to the educational opportunities they need to succeed. This final judgement is yet another clear statement from the court that the state has a legal mandate to take immediate action to ensure that our students are getting the quality of education that they are constitutionally entitled to,” said Gail Evans, lead attorney for Yazzie plaintiffs in the Yazzie/Martinez v. State of New Mexico lawsuit. “To comply with the constitution, we must have a transformation of our educational system—nothing less is going to cut it. The system has failed our students for decades and that must stop now.”

The court made clear that students’ constitutional rights to a sufficient education cannot be violated so that the state can save funds. The court’s final judgement states, “The defendants must comply with their duty to provide an adequate education and may not conserve financial resources at the expense of our constitutional resources.”

The legislature’s current budget under consideration does not fully implement a multicultural and bilingual curriculum, does not adequately increase teacher pay and professional development to recruit and retain teachers, and does not ensure children have access to instructional materials, technology and transportation, and other basic services that are critical for educational success.

“Families and school districts have been struggling to work with the resources that they have,” said Tom Sullivan, former superintendent of Moriarty-Edgewood School District, which is a plaintiff in the Yazzie/Martinez lawsuit. “Most states’ education budgets have recovered from and surpassed pre-recession amounts, but in New Mexico, the current budget proposal is barely returning to 2008 levels when education was already underfunded.”

“We have an incredible opportunity to do the right thing for our students, our future,” said Mike Grossman, superintendent of Lake Arthur Municipal Schools, one of the smallest districts in New Mexico and a Yazzie plaintiff. “Governor Lujan-Grisham and new Public Education Department have expressed a strong commitment to our students and to public education. It is critical that they now step in and drive the major educational reforms and the big investments it will take to fix our schools.”

The court’s final judgement and order can be found here: http://nmpovertylaw.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/D-101-CV-2014-00793-Final-Judgment-and-Order-NCJ-1.pdf

Governor reverses Medicaid cuts in Centennial Care 2.0 waiver

Advocacy efforts conclude in a victory for families


SANTA FE—Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham reversed serious cuts to New Mexico’s Medicaid program yesterday following two years of advocacy efforts by the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty, community organizations, and healthcare providers. Under the Susana Martinez administration, New Mexico’s Human Services Department had proposed major cuts to healthcare services as part of the Centennial Care 2.0 waiver, many of which were approved by the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services in December 2018.  

The New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty led the efforts to fight the cuts that would have implemented premiums for some Medicaid patients, cut retroactive coverage, and instituted mandatory co-pays.

“We owe a huge thanks to Governor Lujan Grisham for reversing these harmful measures and to the advocates and families who fought tirelessly over the last two years for the health and wellbeing of all New Mexicans,” said Abuko D. Estrada, supervising attorney at the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty. “Piece by piece, we’ve successfully fought the cuts in the Centennial Care 2.0 waiver that would have led to thousands of families losing healthcare coverage and shifted an unfair burden of costs to healthcare providers and the healthcare system.”  

The governor’s rejection of the waiver is the latest in a series of positive actions the new administration has taken to improve the health and wellbeing of New Mexicans. Since taking office, Lujan-Grisham has set forth plans to reach uninsured New Mexicans who are eligible for Medicaid but not enrolled and help them apply. The governor has also been publicly supportive of bills, currently working their way through the legislature, that would open up a Medicaid Buy-in option for New Mexicans who do not otherwise have access to affordable healthcare coverage.