New! Financial Resource Guide During COVID-19

The pandemic and economic crisis have created financial hardships for many New Mexicans. Many families have had difficulty accessing the financial resources available to help meet basic needs. In response, we have created the Financial Resource Guide During COVID-19.

The guide is  a comprehensive source of information about assistance—and New Mexicans’ rights to access it—available across the state now and in the future.

The guide includes information about programs funded through federal legislation like the American Recovery Plan Act, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, as well as long-standing state and local programs that can help families with food, housing, healthcare, child care, and more.

Access the resource guide here: http://nmpovertylaw.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/07/NMCLP-COVID-Guide.pdf

Expect the Spanish language version soon!

Settlement agreement ensures child care assistance is more accessible to NM families

ALBUQUERQUE—Today, the New Mexico Early Childhood Education and Care Department and several New Mexican parents and OLÉ—a non-profit, grassroots member organization of working families—announced that they have come to a settlement agreement that will expand access to the state’s child care assistance program and require it to be more responsive to parents’ needs. The parents and OLÉ are represented by the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty.                                  

The settlement agreement resolves a 2018 lawsuit filed during the previous administration that alleged the New Mexico Children Youth and Families Department, which then housed child care assistance services, was denying child care assistance to eligible families.      

CYFD and plaintiffs began the process of addressing the issues raised in the lawsuit and entered into an initial settlement agreement in spring 2019. After Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham and the New Mexico State Legislature created the Early Childhood Education and Care Department in 2019, the Child Care Services Bureau was consolidated along with all other early childhood programs into the new department. ECECD became the responding agency to the lawsuit following the department’s official launch in July 2020 and has committed to working with NMCLP and OLÉ to fully address the issues identified in families’ lawsuit.

“This settlement reflects the child care system that parents are building with Secretary Groginsky for all New Mexicans,” said Alma Martell, a parent leader from OLÉ.  “It makes an early education more affordable to more parents and makes the process of getting state assistance to pay for preschool much easier, kinder, and more like what we expect of a high-quality early education system.”

“It’s clear that Secretary Groginsky and the department are committed to expanding access and making child care assistance work for New Mexican families,” said Tim Davis, an attorney at the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty. “The department has sought out and listened carefully to parents, and the improvements to the program reflect that collaboration and the reality of working families. The department has made changes that are truly groundbreaking and acknowledge that quality affordable child care is a bridge to opportunity for families and their children.” 

“ECECD is committed to ensuring that every eligible family in New Mexico can receive child care assistance in a fair, equitable, and transparent manner,” said ECECD Secretary Elizabeth Groginsky. “Access to high quality early childhood education is critical to the development of our young children and vital to the economic stability of our families. In the nine months since our department officially launched, we have worked to change regulations to make it easier for families to apply for assistance, waived all parent co-pays until July 2022, and continue to seek ways to expand eligibility for child care assistance for families in our state.” 

The terms outlined in the settlement agreement include:

  • Maintaining eligibility for families with incomes at or below 250% of the federal poverty level unless the department reduces eligibility through a rulemaking process with public input.
  • By August 2021, or sooner, ECECD will ensure that participating families know when and why a change is made to their child care assistance case. Notices will also clearly explain why child care assistance is denied or terminated and will provide information on how to appeal the decision. ECECD has already taken major steps to comply with this requirement.
  • By December 31, 2021, ECECD will make the final updates to its child care assistance regulations so families receive correct information about their benefits during the application process, which will increase access to child care with minimal administrative burdens.
  • ECECD will train all staff on the changes and the changes to the notices, which has already begun and will continue as ECECD fulfills its obligations under the settlement.
  • For three years, ECECD will hold meetings with participating families and follow up meetings with the plaintiffs to discuss the feedback, and any potential remedial next steps.     
  • ECECD will not be required to pay any attorney fees, so long as it remains compliant with the terms of the settlement.

The settlement agreement builds upon other recent important changes that ECECD made to the child care assistance program that expand access, including giving benefits to parents looking for work, streamlining income determinations, increasing eligibility to families with incomes up to 250% of the federal poverty level, ending the exclusion of graduate students, and no longer forcing parents to pursue child support from an absent parent in order to qualify for assistance.

Currently one-in-three New Mexican families qualify for free or reduced child care tuition through ECECD’s child care assistance services. Families can learn about eligibility and apply for assistance at: https://eligibility.ececd.state.nm.us/eligibility/public/home.page?dswid=-4195

The settlement agreement can be found here: http://nmpovertylaw.org/torres-v-jacobson-proposed-second-amended-stipulated-order-2021-04-22/

ACTION ALERT: We need your help to get the Healthy Food Financing Act Heard!

Every New Mexican should have access to healthy foods.

SB 229, the Healthy Food Financing Act, would provide loans and grants to small food businesses to increase access to local, healthy foods in both rural and urban areas of our state. The bill will bring federal money into New Mexico for economic development and investment in community-led solutions to hunger, while supporting local farmers and improving health outcomes for New Mexico’s families.  

We need your help to get the Healthy Food Financing Heard! The Healthy Food Financing Act still needs to pass the House floor to make it to the Governor’s desk. Please contact House leadership TODAY to urge them to hear and pass SB 229.

Please personalize your message with your unique perspective and experience. Here is an example of what you might write or say. Representative ____, I’m asking you to support SB 229, the Healthy Food Financing Act and bring it to a vote on the House floor. This bill will fight hunger in New Mexico and help our economic recovery. SB 229 invests in community-led solutions to hunger and brings federal funding into our state to support local farmers & food businesses.

House Leadership

ACTION ALERT: Support language access for state services!

All New Mexicans deserve equal access to state services, regardless of the language they speak.

New Mexico is home to thousands of people that primarily speak Spanish, Vietnamese, Chinese and Diné and other languages. Despite being required by law, many agencies do not provide information and services in languages New Mexicans understand. Lack of language services has delayed or prevented New Mexicans from applying for unemployment insurance, food assistance, and Medicaid prior to and during the pandemic and deepened economic and health disparities in our communities. 

Senate Bill 368 will increase resources and services in languages other than English, ensuring that more New Mexicans can access state services. The bill will be heard in the Senate Health and Public Affairs Committee FRIDAY a half hour after the Senate floor session. 

We need your help to get it passed! Please submit written comments today or sign up to speak and comment in the committee hearing.

You can share a personal story in your email about why state agencies should provide interpretation or translation. You can also say something like this: “I urge senators to support SB 368. All New Mexicans should have access to state services. Coordinating and planning language services is a common sense step to address health and economic inequities in our state services.”

Instructions on how to submit written comments and make public comments at the hearing are below. 

Bill summary

SB 368: Language Access Analysis, Plan, and Annual Report will increase language access by requiring state agencies to: 

  • Assess the number of New Mexicans they serve that primarily speak a language other than English and determine the resources needed to ensure meaningful access to services, like public benefits and unemployment insurance.
  • Develop and implement an annual plan to provide meaningful access to state programs for individuals who primarily speak languages other than English. 
  • Submit the annual report to the governor and the legislative finance committee.

Written comment instructions

  • Submit to SPAC@nmlegis.gov 
  • Written comments should be 300 words or less. 

Public comment (during hearing) instructions

When: 30 minutes after Senate floor session on Friday, March 12

Sign up to make public comment via this form:  https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSd6DQLFUzJjhBKz16R2F1jHrXTZN68hQ3_dMl0JAlGgl0kFzQ/viewform

You will be contacted by the committee’s Zoom operator who will give you instructions on how to access the public comment portion by Zoom.

What to expect during the hearing: The committee will be taking public comment. The chair of the committee will announce the bill and ask who supports SB 368. At that time, to provide a comment use the Zoom reaction button and raise your hand. The Chair will call your name and unmute your zoom when it is your turn to speak.

Tips 

  • Keep your remarks brief and to the point.
  • If you have a personal story about how state agencies’ lack of interpretation or translation services has impacted you or your family, please share it.
  • Close the Legislature’s webcast page when you give your comment so there is not an echo during your remarks.
  • Make sure you are not muted when you start speaking.
  • Do not rely on your computer or phone for notes. Write them down or print them in case your computer screen freezes.
  • Close other tabs and windows in your browser to make sure your connection is good.
  • If your connection or microphone doesn’t work, be prepared to call in with the information above.

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

Barriers finally removed after years of advocacy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Summer Law Clerkship

The New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty (NMCLP) Summer Law Clerkship is a paid 10-week,  full-time summer position working to advance economic and social justice for an outstanding first or second-year law student. The Law Clerk will receive a $6,000 stipend and will work closely with  NMCLP attorneys in one or more of our areas of work doing legal research, drafting pleadings and  advocacy materials, and performing issue analysis, investigation, and outreach to partner  organizations and community members. The NMCLP Law Clerk will work with one or more of the  teams: Healthcare, Public Benefits, Education, Economic Equity. Please visit our website for more  information about our work at www.nmpovertylaw.org. 

Application Deadline: March 1, 2021 

To apply, please email a cover letter, resume, short writing sample, and law school transcript to  Felipe Guevara at contact@nmpovertylaw.org. Enter in the Subject Heading: “NMCLP Summer Law  Clerkship”. If you have a particular interest in one of the areas listed above, let us know about it in  your cover letter.

Media Advisory – Child Care Assistance public hearing on Wednesday

SANTA FE—The Early Childhood Education and Care Department will hold a public hearing on Wednesday, January 6, 2021 at 1:00 p.m on proposed regulations that would expand access to New Mexico’s Child Care Assistance program. If the proposed regulations pass as written, many costly and burdensome requirements for families applying for child care would be eliminated.

The proposed regulations would remove the requirement that force single parents to assign their rights to enforce child support to the state in order to get assistance. Other important changes that will increase access include:

  • Not counting certain income to determine if a family qualifies.
  • Allowing families to apply online.
  • Eliminating unnecessary mid-year phone calls with families.
  • Allowing graduate students to qualify for assistance.

You can find the full text of the proposed rules here: http://164.64.110.134/nmac/nmregister/xxxi/ECECDnotice_xxxi22.html

WHAT:
Hearing on proposed changes to Child Care Assistance

WHEN:
Wednesday, January 6, 2021 at 1:00 p.m.

WHO:
Early Childhood Education and Care Department
Supporters for expanding access to the child care assistance program, including OLE members and New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty staff.

WHERE:
To access the hearing by telephone call: 1-346-248-7799 and enter access code 9743902 4249. To access the hearing via the internet go to https://zoom.us/j/97439024249 and enter meeting code 974 3902 4249#.

Media and people who submitted public comments ahead of time can live stream the meeting here: https://fb.me/e/hV6VIGqNo

Action Alert: Support expanding access to Child Care Assistance!

One of the best ways to help hard-working parents keep their jobs and stay in school is by providing help with the exorbitant costs of child care. The Early Childhood Education and Care Department (ECECD) has proposed rules that would make New Mexico’s Child Care Assistance Program accessible to more families.

You can help make these changes by submitting comments to ECECD supporting the changes.

The proposed rules would end ineffective and burdensome requirements that force single parents to assign child support enforcement rights to the state to qualify for child care assistance. The process is so burdensome and fruitless that most parents choose to simply forgo much needed childcare along with employment and work opportunities. Complying with child support enforcement rights can also be dangerous when the absent parent was abusive or antagonizes the custodial parent.

The regulations also make child care more accessible and affordable by:

  • Making it easier to qualify by not counting certain income;
  • Eliminating the requirement of applying in-person at a child care office;
  • Granting three months of benefits to families who are searching for work (Currently, families have to be employed or in school to qualify);
  • Extending eligibility to families pursuing education in graduate school.

Tell the ECECD that you support these positive changes to the Child Care Assistance program.

1) Speak out at the public hearing. Give public comment on Wednesday, January 6, 2021 at 1:00 p.m. The hearing will take place via internet and telephone due to the COVID-19 public health emergency. To access the hearing by telephone call: 1-346-248-7799 and enter access code 9743902 4249. To access the hearing via the internet go to https://zoom.us/j/97439024249 and enter meeting code 974 3902 4249#.

2) Submit written public comments. Submit written public comments no later than January 6, 2021 at 1:00 p.m. by email to ECECD-ECS-PublicComment@state.nm.us with the subject line “8.15.2 NMAC Public Comment.” You can also submit comments by first class mail to P.O. Drawer 5169, Santa Fe, NM 87502-5169, or hand delivered to the Old PERA building at 1120 Paseo de Peralta on January 6, 2021 from 1:00p.m. to 3:00 p.m.

3) What you might include in your written or oral comments:

a) Say you support the proposed regulations.

  • I support the proposed rules, because they will expand access to child care assistance and increase affordability of the program.

b) Explain why child care assistance is important to you or your community.

  • Working families need access to affordable childcare they can trust to ensure their children have a safe space to learn while the parents are working to further their education or participate in the workforce.
  • Every working parent should be able to access quality child care without worrying about sacrificing basic needs like food and rent.
  • 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. That is why it’s so important that all working families be able to access affordable childcare that they can trust.

c) Explain how the proposed regulations will impact you or your community.

  • Child support requirements are burdensome to administer, have few benefits for families and put domestic violence survivors in danger. Other states have eliminated these requirements.
  • Child care is unaffordable for low income families, because the program has high copays. The federal government recommends that families pay no more than 7% of their income on child care so that is affordable. New Mexico should eliminate co-pays for families below 100% of the federal poverty level and make them affordable for other families.
  • It will be easier to find a job if childcare is available when families are looking for work.
  • Eliminating the requirement to submit applications in-person will lower burdens on applicants and increases child care accessibility.

You can find the full text of the proposed rules here: http://164.64.110.134/nmac/nmregister/xxxi/ECECDnotice_xxxi22.html

Court blocks attempt to end lawsuit on food and Medicaid assistance


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trump cuts to food assistance violate sovereignty of Native American Nations

By Christy Chapman, Native American Budget and Policy Institute and Tim Davis, New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty

No one should go without access to food in the United States. However, in the middle of a global pandemic when thousands of people are losing their jobs everyday, the Trump administration continues to pursue cuts to food assistance for more than 27,255 New Mexicans and 755,000 low-income adults nationwide by limiting unemployed adults to just three months of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) food assistance in a three year period.  

There are 23 sovereign nations in the territorial boundaries of New Mexico whose communities will be harmed by this rule. Yet, the federal government failed to consult these sovereign nations, or any others, on the proposed rule that would disproportionately impact Native communities and disrespects the sovereignty of Native governments. 

The Native American Budget and Policy Institute and New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty argue in an amicus brief that as a result the rule is illegal and should be blocked. 

Federal law has long limited SNAP for unemployed adults without children. However, states have flexibility to request waivers for areas with high unemployment and, if unemployment was high state-wide, the whole state could be waived from the time limit. The new rule would limit this flexibility and make it more difficult to obtain waivers for areas of high unemployment including sovereign Native American nations.  

The rule would disproportionately impact several Native American communities, where historically, the unemployment rate can be greater than 50%. In small and rural communities, the only job opportunities may be in the education, health, or government sector. 

The Trump administration ignored written comments against the rule documenting the significant harm it would cause American Indian/Alaskan Native communities. This violates the trust responsibility between the federal government and Native American Nations created by treaties when these Nations ceded large portions of their aboriginal lands to the United States in return for the right to self-government with reserved lands. 

The colonial land seizures restricted access to food, income and agriculture caused widespread food insecurity that persists today. Historic and ongoing systemic inequalities cause many Native American communities to be without the infrastructure and economic development opportunities for adequate employment for all its members. 

A federal court has temporarily stopped the rule and could permanently block it. Congress should also stop the rule and has already suspended its implementation during the public health emergency. 

Pueblos, Tribes, and Nations are in the best position to determine public policy within their territorial boundaries and for their members. In this time of racial reckoning and as the COVID-19 crisis exposes long standing systemic inequalities in New Mexico, the federal government must fulfill its trust responsibility and fully recognize the sovereignty of Native American nations. Under no circumstances should the federal government take food assistance away from people who can’t find work.