New Mexicans can now more easily access identification cards

New Mexico has a two-tiered driver’s license system that gives New Mexicans the choice to opt in or out of the federal REAL ID Act requirements. However, the Motor Vehicles Division was illegally denying access to the REAL ID alternative by requiring unnecessary and burdensome paperwork. MVD also illegally denied licenses and IDs without informing people that they could appeal a denial.

On behalf of New Mexicans illegally denied the second tier licenses and IDs, the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty along with Somos un Pueblo Unido, New Mexico Coalition to End Homelessness, the ACLU-NM, and Freedman Boyd Hollander Goldberg Urias & Ward PA sued the state and the MVD ultimately agreed to a settlement.

After filing for a temporary restraining order, the MVD immediately eliminated the illegal requirement to get a non-REAL ID and agreed to notify families about the appeals process. The final settlement agreement requires MVD to train workers, provide accurate informational materials to the public and on its website, and to engage in a public information campaign to notify New Mexicans of the new requirements.

You can find a press release about the victory here: http://nmpovertylaw.org/2018/08/new-mexicans-prevail-in-drivers-license-lawsuit/

The settlement agreement can be found here: http://nmpovertylaw.org/17-stipulated-order-2018-08-15/

New Mexicans prevail in driver’s license lawsuit

SANTA FE, NM – On Tuesday, civil rights groups and homeless advocates announced a settlement agreement reached in a lawsuit against the New Mexico Taxation and Revenue Department and the Motor Vehicles Division that requires the state to properly implement its two-tiered driver’s license law and take much-needed steps to ensure New Mexicans can more easily access to an alternative to the federal REAL ID as state legislators intended.

“Everyday New Mexicans came out on top today,” said David Coss, former mayor of Santa Fe and lead plaintiff in the lawsuit filed in January. “I look forward to finally obtaining my state license knowing that other people won’t have to go through the difficult and frustrating process I did. I believe that government should create opportunities for residents to get ahead, not barriers that get in their way. This settlement ensures fewer barriers and restored access to these essential documents.”

The lawsuit Coss v. Monforte challenged the MVD’s regulations governing the issuance of non-REAL ID driver’s licenses and identification cards, including the illegal practices of requiring proof of an “identification number” and not providing adequate due process to applicants who were denied a credential. The roll out of those regulations caused many applicants across the state to be wrongly denied a license or ID, and in countless cases, it triggered multiple visits to MVD and other government agencies for additional documentation not required by law.

On Friday afternoon, Santa Fe First Judicial District Court Judge David K. Thomson signed the settlement agreement between MVD, organizational plaintiffs and individual plaintiffs delineating what the MVD must do to have the case dismissed with prejudice.

Under the settlement agreement, the MVD will:

  • No longer require proof of an identification number, such as a social security number, to apply for a Driving Authorization Card (DAC) or non-federally compliant identification card.
  • Implement new regulations that will only require proof of New Mexico residency, identity and age for a non-REAL ID credential.
  • Expand the list of acceptable documents to show proof of New Mexico residency, identity and age.
  • Inform applicants who are denied a DAC or non-federally compliant identification card on the basis of a fingerprint background check of the reason for the denial, evidence the applicant can provide MVD to resolve the denial and information on how to appeal a denial and the timeframe for doing so.
  • Provide additional training to MVD clerks and public information regarding the new rules and policies.

In 2016, New Mexico lawmakers 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. While the state law requires MVD to provide a REAL ID-compliant license or ID card to New Mexicans who can meet the federal government’s burdensome requirements, the MVD is also required to issue a non-REAL ID license or ID card to eligible applicants who do not meet the federal requirements or simply do not want a REAL ID.

The plaintiffs in the lawsuit included senior citizens, immigrants, and homeless New Mexicans who need a license or ID to go to work or school, obtain housing, medical care or other necessities.

Individual plaintiffs who were denied licenses and ID cards are joined by organizational plaintiffs New Mexico Coalition to End Homelessness and Somos Un Pueblo Unido 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 defendants in the lawsuit are the NMTRD, acting Cabinet Secretary John Monforte, the MVD, and Acting Director Alicia Ortiz.

The following are additional statements from plaintiff organizations and the legal team:

“A broad coalition of community groups, public safety advocates and legislators has worked together over a 15-year span to ensure that all New Mexicans have the ability to apply for a license or ID, critical tools in navigating every day life,” said Marcela Díaz, Executive Director of Somos Un Pueblo Unido, an organizational plaintiff in the lawsuit. “The onerous and misguided federal REAL ID Act threatened our common sense licensing policies, but the Legislature pushed back and gave us a real alternative that meets the needs of New Mexicans. We are satisfied that through this agreement, citizens and non-citizens alike will have access to accurate information about the non-REAL ID license, as well as a more efficient process to obtain it.”

“This agreement is an important victory for New Mexicans experiencing homelessness,” said Hank Hughes, Executive Director of New Mexico Coalition to End Homelessness. “Obtaining an identification card is often the first step for someone who has lost everything, as they put their life back together. This agreement removes the unnecessary barriers that were in place with the old regulations.”

“We’re relieved the MVD has agreed to stop asking New Mexicans to provide unnecessary documentation in order to get a non-REAL ID license or ID,” said Sovereign Hager, legal director at the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty. “MVD’s decision to comply with our state law benefits all New Mexicans, but especially families who do not have a stable place to live or consistent employment. An ID or driver’s license is a basic necessity to do just about anything. Without one, you can’t drive, fill a prescription, cash a check, find housing, or get job to support your family. We hope MVD will continue to work on common sense improvements that will streamline access to IDs and licenses for all New Mexicans.”

“We applaud the professionalism of MVD officials in hammering out this agreement with our organizations,” said Gabriela Ibañez Guzmán, staff attorney with Somos Un Pueblo Unido and co-counsel in the lawsuit. “The settlement represents a sensible solution that will benefit hardworking New Mexicans and ensure that people are not left without a driver’s license or ID.”

“The federal REAL ID was a bad law that imposed unnecessary identification requirements on New Mexico residents,” said ACLU of New Mexico executive director Peter Simonson. “In its wisdom, the Legislature passed a law to ensure compliance while also guaranteeing our most vulnerable residents have opportunity to continue access to a driver’s license or state ID and today’s settlement agreement allows that purpose to be fulfilled. That said, we believe there is more work to do to ensure New Mexico residents aren’t left out due to fingerprinting requirements and other obstacles.”

Senate farm bill protects New Mexico families’ access to SNAP  

ALBUQUERQUE— On Thursday, the U.S. Senate passed its farm bill, which protects and strengthens the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), by an overwhelmingly bipartisan vote of 86-11. The Senate’s bill is in stark contrast to the partisan House farm bill narrowly passed last week, which if passed, would restrict food assistance to millions of Americans and hundreds of thousands New Mexicans through cuts and harmful changes to SNAP.

The House and Senate will now need to negotiate a final farm bill before sending it to the White House for President Trump’s signature.

“The Senate farm bill strengthens SNAP and protects millions of Americans’ access to healthy food. This is great news for New Mexico where SNAP is of particular importance. Over 450,000 New Mexicans rely on SNAP to put food on the table, including 40 percent of the state’s young children,” said Maria Griego, supervising attorney at the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty. “Congress should use the Senate farm bill as a basis for its final legislation. We urge our elected leaders to negotiate a final, bi-partisan bill that remains faithful to the Senate’s approach. We need a farm bill that grows income and employment opportunities for all Americans and bolsters, not weakens our country’s most effective anti-hunger program.”

The Senate bill would provide for modest improvements to SNAP’s operations and administration. It also would expand the 2014 farm bill’s pilot program to test new approaches to job training and other employment-related activities for SNAP participants.

Should a farm bill that is closer to the House’s version pass, up to 121,000 New Mexicans would face termination of SNAP, while tens of thousands of children and other family members would face reduced benefits for up to three years.

For more information on the House version of the 2018 farm bill and how the SNAP cuts would impact New Mexico, go to:  http://nmpovertylaw.org/2018/04/proposed-cuts-to-snap-in-house-farm-bill-would-take-food-off-the-table-for-new-mexico-families/

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

Action Alert: Public charge-the latest threat to immigrant families 

The Trump administration is expected to issue a proposed federal regulation soon that forces families that include immigrants to choose between meeting basic needs and keeping their families together. The revised “public charge” rule could block immigrants from becoming legal permanent residents (LPRs) or “green card” holders if they or their dependents–including U.S. citizen children–use public benefits for which they are eligible.

What is the public charge test now?

The “public charge” test identifies immigrants who might depend on government benefits like Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, Supplemental Security Income, and General Assistance. If the government determines someone is likely to become a “public charge,” it can deny admission to the U.S. or refuse an application for lawful permanent residency.

The Trump administration wants to drastically expand the list of programs included in public charge determination, threatening access to food, medical, and housing assistance for millions of lawfully present immigrant families and their U.S. citizen children.

This change would cause families to forgo critical assistance like Medicaid and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) for fear of family members being deported or denied a green card, putting them at greater risk of falling into poverty. It would also allow the administration to significantly shift the U.S. legal immigration system away from family-based immigration–all without the approval of Congress.

Sign up here to help us resist! Help fight this shameful rule!

You can find information on what we know about the proposed changes here.
You can information about public charge and the proposed changes in Spanish here.

New Mexico families in danger of losing access to SNAP   

House Farm Bill passes

ALBUQUERQUE— The 2018 House Farm Bill, passed by the U.S. House of Representatives today, significantly cuts the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)—formerly known as food stamps—by more than $20 billion over the next ten years by shrinking eligibility for families, penalizing unemployed older adults, and other changes.

If passed by the U.S. Senate, the cuts will make it difficult for millions of Americans to access enough groceries and healthy food, and would be especially damaging to New Mexico, where over 450,000 people rely on SNAP to eat, including 40 percent of the state’s young children.

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

“SNAP, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, is our country’s most successful hunger fighting program. It helps hundreds of thousands of struggling New Mexicans put food on the table and is of particular importance in the southern half of our state where almost one in four people participate in the program. But the new House Farm Bill cuts SNAP, and Congressman Steve Pearce, who represents District 2, voted again to increase food insecurity and hardship across New Mexico.

“Earlier this year, Congress passed a bill that gives $84 billion in tax breaks to the wealthiest one percent – enough money to fund the entire SNAP program which costs less than $60 million. Few in District 2 or in New Mexico will benefit from those tax cuts for the wealthiest, but at least 162,393 New Mexicans in Congressman Pearce’s district participate in SNAP. Should this legislation pass in the Senate, up to 121,000 New Mexicans would face termination of SNAP, while tens of thousands of children and other family members would face reduced benefits for up to three years.

“Some of these families will lose food assistance due to illogical new work requirements. Research shows that SNAP gives people the support they need to get back on their feet and that compared to people not receiving SNAP, unemployed SNAP participants are more likely, not less, to find work. Despite this clear data showing that it is completely backward to take food away from people who are struggling to find work, the House Farm Bill would force New Mexico to develop a large bureaucracy to track employment and unpaid work hours of people on SNAP and cut unemployed adults, including those with children over six years old.

“Our state elected leaders should know just how misguided such policies are. In 2014 and 2015, Governor Martinez experimented with the same expensive bureaucracy and harsh penalties here in New Mexico despite widespread opposition. The courts ordered the state to stop the program because the state couldn’t administer it without terminating food assisatnce for eligible families.

“The truth is most New Mexican families that can work, do work. Over half of the families who participate in SNAP in New Mexico are in working families. Families in our state receive SNAP for an average of just 14 months, making it a critical temporary support.

“Food is at the heart of our culture here in New Mexico, and in southern New Mexico, food and agriculture have deep roots. The congressional bill threatens not just our families but also our local economies and vibrant local food systems. Millions in SNAP benefits boost food purchases and creates jobs in food retail and agriculture. In fact, SNAP generates $1.70 of economic activity for every federal dollar spent. Over $650 million in SNAP benefits were spent at retailers in New Mexico last year.

“Instead of trying to cut SNAP, lawmakers should focus on bipartisan legislation that grows income and employment opportunities for all New Mexicans through policies that actually work. We urge Steve Pearce and other lawmakers to stop supporting such damaging legislation and instead to strengthen SNAP and ensure families across New Mexico can meet their basic needs.”

For more information on the 2018 Farm Bill and how the SNAP cuts would have impacted southern New Mexico, go to:  http://nmpovertylaw.org/2018/05/farm-bill-proposal-would-hurt-southern-new-mexico-economy-and-leave-families-hungry/

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

New Mexico families will not lose access to SNAP   

Farm Bill fails to pass

ALBUQUERQUE— Lawmakers rejected the 2018 Farm Bill today. The bill would have increased food insecurity by significantly cutting the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps, by more than $20 billion over ten years. The cuts would have made it difficult for millions of Americans to access enough groceries and healthy food and would have had a particularly harmful impact on New Mexico, where one in four people rely on SNAP to eat, including one in three of the state’s children.

“We are relieved that the House voted to protect access to food for hundreds of thousands of New Mexicans, including children, low-wage workers, older adults, and people with disabilities,” said William Townley, an attorney with the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty. “SNAP is New Mexico’s first defense against hunger and creates jobs in our agricultural and food industries. We hope Congress will move forward with legislation that bolsters our food assistance programs and ensures that no one in our communities goes hungry.”

Rep. Steve Pearce, who represents southern New Mexico’s District 2, voted in favor of the bill. SNAP has been vital in helping struggling southern New Mexicans afford basic nutrition. At least 162,393 New Mexicans in Pearce’s district participate in SNAP. Most of these families include children and nearly a third include senior citizens. Over half of the SNAP participants in District 2 are in working families.

41 organizations, including the New Mexico Pediatric Society, sent a letter this week to Pearce and Representatives Ben Ray Lujan and Michelle Lujan Grisham urging them to vote against the legislation. The letter can be found here: http://nmpovertylaw.org/farm-bill-snap-sign-on-letter-2018-05-15/

The signatories include:

New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty
El CENTRO de Igualdad y Derechos
Equality New Mexico
Interfaith Worker Justice – New Mexico
National Education Association- New Mexico
Ojo Sarco Community Center
Rio Grande Food Project
RISE Stronger New Mexico
La Semilla Food Center
Santa Maria de la Vid Abbey
Food Bank of Eastern New Mexico
Interfaith Hunger Coalition
The Community Pantry
New Mexico Pediatric Society
National Center for Frontier Communities
New Mexico Asian Family Center
Senior Citizens Law Office
Freeman House
Prosperity Works
Lutheran Advocacy Ministry-New Mexico
New Mexico Voices for Children
National Union of Hospital and Healthcare Employees- District 1199NM
New Mexico Coalition to End Homelessness
Mesilla Valley Community of Hope
Casa Milagro
Enlace Comunitario
Southwest Women’s Law Center
New Mexico Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics
Crossroads for Women
Roadrunner Food Bank of New Mexico
New Mexico Children Advocacy Networks
Encuentro
OLÉ Education Fund
Pegasus Legal Services for Children
Strong Families NM of Forward Together
Transgender Resource Center of New Mexico
National Center for Frontier Communities
Southwest Center for Health Innovation
Center for Civic Policy
NM CAFé (Comunidades en Acción y de Fe)
New Mexico Community Health Worker Association

For more information on the 2018 Farm Bill and how the SNAP cuts would have impacted New Mexico, go to: http://nmpovertylaw.org/2018/04/proposed-cuts-to-snap-in-house-farm-bill-would-take-food-off-the-table-for-new-mexico-families/

For more information on the 2018 Farm Bill and how the SNAP cuts would have impacted southern New Mexico, go to:  http://nmpovertylaw.org/2018/05/farm-bill-proposal-would-hurt-southern-new-mexico-economy-and-leave-families-hungry/

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 seek immediate order to stop state’s illegal denial of non-REAL IDs to eligible New Mexicans

SANTA FE – Today, civil rights groups and advocates for people experiencing homelessness requested a temporary restraining order (TRO) in state district court against the New Mexico Taxation and Revenue Department and the Motor Vehicles Division to stop them from unlawfully denying Driver’s Authorization Cards (DAC’s) and non-REAL ID identification cards to eligible New Mexicans until a lawsuit filed earlier this year is resolved.

The lawsuit, Coss v. Monforte, filed in January of 2018, challenges MVD’s onerous and illegal regulations governing the issuance of non-REAL ID driver’s 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.

“Every day New Mexicans go without a license or ID is another day where they are unable to cash their paycheck, pick up their prescriptions or lose a job opportunity,” said David Urias, lead attorney on the case. “While the court decides this important case, MVD should not be allowed to further endanger the livelihoods of countless working families by ignoring the law and overstepping their authority.”

The plaintiffs include senior citizens, immigrants, 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.

Plaintiffs such as Charlie Maldonado Jr. lost a job offer because he could not present a valid ID that left him without a much-needed source of income that would have helped him exit homelessness. Similarly, Eulalia Robles lost two caregiving jobs because she could not present a valid driver’s license and was forced to forfeit her car. While other plaintiffs like former Santa Fe Mayor David Coss, Raúl Aaron Lara Martínez, Reyna Carmona and Elizabeth Lara find it much more difficult to take care of their families because they cannot legally drive.

“We continue to hear from people throughout New Mexico who are eligible under state law, but are still denied licenses or ID cards by MVD,” said Marcela Díaz, executive director of Somos Un Pueblo Unido (Somos), an organizational plaintiff in the case. “We also continue to receive reports from agencies that provide services to vulnerable New Mexicans like domestic violence survivors and people who are experiencing homelessness. These agencies are struggling to help their clients meet MVD’s illegal regulations. MVD’s regulations and practices are setting low-income New Mexicans back, and they must stop while our families get their day in court.”

“Time is of the essence for people who have been illegally denied a license or ID in New Mexico,” said Peter Simonson, Executive Director at the ACLU of New Mexico. “People are already losing work and falling behind on their bills. We cannot allow MVD to continue hurting hardworking New Mexicans while this case works its way through the courts.”

If granted, the injunction would require TRD, MVD, their employees, and their contractors, such as MVD Express, do the following:

  1. Halt implementing and enforcing illegal regulations that do not exist in the governing statutes for the DAC or the non-federally compliant ID card.
  2. Notify all New Mexicans previously denied a DAC or non-federally compliant ID card in writing to provide the reason for their denial and how to resolve their ineligibility, including those who underwent a background check.
  3. Record and preserve the name and mailing address of every New Mexican who applies for, but does not receive, a DAC or a non-federally compliant ID card moving forward.

“When a person who is working hard to exit homelessness is denied an identification card, they are almost guaranteed to stay homeless since they will not be able to get a job or rent an apartment without ID,” said Hank Hughes, executive director of New Mexico Coalition to End Homelessness. “We cannot wait, we need MVD to follow the law and give people a fair shot at getting an ID now.”

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.

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

Individual plaintiffs who were denied licenses and ID cards are joined by organizational plaintiffs New Mexico Coalition to End Homelessness and Somos Un Pueblo Unido in the lawsuit. 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.

To view the Plaintiffs’ motion for injunction, click here: http://nmpovertylaw.org/tromotion/

Farm Bill proposal would hurt southern New Mexico economy and leave families hungry

ALBUQUERQUE — The cuts to food assistance proposed in the 2018 House Farm Bill, which could be voted on as early as next week, would have a particularly harmful impact on southern New Mexico’s Congressional District 2. The district is in an agricultural and rural part of the state where almost one in four people participate in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps, to buy groceries and healthy food.

Rep. Steve Pearce has voiced his support for the proposed SNAP cuts in the Farm Bill, which would cut funding for SNAP by $20 Billion over the next ten years by cutting eligibility for families, penalizing people looking for work, and other changes.

“We need a Farm Bill that actually supports farmers and our shared work to eliminate hunger in the community,” said George Lujan, executive director of SouthWest Organizing Project (SWOP). “Southern New Mexico is one of the most prolific agricultural regions in the country where we grow many of our most popular traditional foods. There’s no reason for a high instance of hunger in an area where food has such deep cultural and historical roots. We need to make sure our policy decisions are in line with our shared belief that everyone has enough to eat in our community.”

SNAP has been vital in helping struggling southern New Mexicans afford a basic diet. At least 162,393 New Mexicans in Pearce’s district participate in SNAP. Most of these families include children and nearly a third include senior citizens. Over half of the SNAP participants in District 2 are in working families.

“Roadrunner Food Bank is deeply concerned about the House Agriculture Committee’s Farm Bill legislation. The bill’s severe cuts to the SNAP program will lengthen the lines at our pantries, soup kitchens, and other sites that serve hungry people,” said Mag Strittmatter, president and CEO of Roadrunner Food Bank. “Deep cuts to SNAP will negatively impact the people we serve and increase hunger in our community. We want to see a strong Farm Bill that protects the hungry as well as struggling farmers and rural communities, but this bill as drafted would only worsen hunger and make it harder for children, seniors, and families to access food assistance.”

If the Farm Bill passes, it would cut SNAP eligibility by reducing the net income limits from 165 percent to 130 percent of the Federal Poverty Level and removing any options for New Mexico to increase the eligibility level. It would also add bureaucratic requirements removed decades ago like requiring New Mexicans to provide their utility bill to their local Income Support Division office.

“Federal Nutrition programs like SNAP account for 80 percent of the Farm Bill, and this Congress is seeking to slash it by $20 Billion. The local impact would be devastating. In Dona Ana County alone, over 60,000 of our neighbors are recipients of SNAP benefits,” said Krysten Aguilar, director of operations and policy advocacy at La Semilla Food Center. “This bill targets our most vulnerable families and children and attacks their ability to eat.”

Aguilar continued, “SNAP benefits generate $1.70 of economic activity for every federal $1 spent, so not only is the program working to feed people, it is creating jobs and stimulating our local economy. This bill is cruel, senseless, and economically unsound.”

SNAP program cuts would decrease economic activity in southern New Mexico, where SNAP benefits boost food purchases spent at local grocers and farmer’s markets by hundreds of millions of dollars a year. On average, SNAP participants in New Mexico receive $121 a month in benefits. That amounts to $19 Million spent in local businesses across Southern New Mexico each month.

The Farm Bill does nothing to increase employment or wages, but proposes a one-size-fits-all work hour requirement for an expanded number of adults that would force states to develop large new bureaucracies. Unemployed or underemployed adults, including those with children over 6 years old, would be cut off of SNAP for up to three years if they cannot comply with the requirements.

New Mexico had a similar program from 2011 to 2016. Data from HSD showed that the majority of participants lost food benefits and there were no improvements in earnings or employment. In fact, the state’s administration of the program was so poor, a federal judge ordered the state to cease implementation.

“We know SNAP works in New Mexico. Cutting it would take food away from people struggling to make ends meet, and from children and working people,” said William Townley, an attorney at the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty. “It is completely backward to take food away from people who are struggling to find work or are unable to work. Instead, Congress should work together on legislation that provides meaningful job training and jobs with wages families can actually live on.”

New Mexico has consistently qualified for a statewide waiver of any federal penalties on unemployed adults because New Mexico has persistently high unemployment compared with the national average. Under the new bill, most of New Mexico would no longer qualify for a waiver.

The Farm Bill, a piece of legislation renewed every five years, includes the budget for food and agriculture programs, such as crop insurance and subsidies, rural development, SNAP, and other nutrition programs.

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

For information on SNAP participants in District 2 by county, go to: http://nmpovertylaw.org/snap-participants-and-total-pop-dist-2-table/

Proposed cuts to SNAP in House Farm Bill would take food off the table for New Mexico families

ALBUQUERQUE, NM — The House Farm Bill, released yesterday, proposes significant cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps, by cutting eligibility for families, penalizing unemployed adults, and other changes. The cuts would make it difficult for millions of Americans and hundreds of thousands of New Mexicans to access enough groceries and healthy food. The bill would have a particularly harmful impact on New Mexico, where one in four people rely on SNAP to eat, including 40 percent of the state’s young children.

“We have a shared responsibility to make sure our neighbors and members of our community all have enough to eat and can access healthy food. But these shameful changes to SNAP literally take food off the table for people trying to get by,” said William Townley, an attorney at the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty. “It is completely backward to take food away from people who are struggling to find work. We know that participating in SNAP helps people get on their feet when they are unemployed.”

SNAP is the nation’s and New Mexico’s most effective anti-hunger program. It helps struggling families and workers access enough food to eat. The vast majority of SNAP participants, 74 percent, are in families with children and 51 percent are in working families. The remainder, 26 percent, are in families with members who are elderly or have disabilities. New Mexico families receive SNAP for an average of 14 months, making it a critical temporary support.

The Farm Bill would cut eligibility for SNAP for hundreds of thousands of families by reducing the income limits from 165 percent to 130 percent of the Federal Poverty Level and removing any options for New Mexico to increase the eligibility level. It would also add bureaucratic requirements that had been removed decades ago, such as requiring New Mexicans to provide their utility bill to their local Income Support Division office.

The proposed bill would require states to mandate and administer an unpaid work program for unemployed adults between the ages of 18 and 59, including families with children over six years old. Federal law would no longer permit states to design and implement their own work programs. Up to 121,000 New Mexicans would face termination of SNAP, while tens of thousands of children and other family members would face reduced benefits for up to three years.

Currently, only adults age 18 to 49 without children can be required to do work hours if they are unemployed and waivers are available for areas of high unemployment. New Mexico has consistently qualified for a waiver of any federal work requirements because New Mexico has persistently high unemployment compared with the national average. Under the new bill, most of New Mexico would no longer qualify for a waiver.

The changes to federal food assistance programs would also impact Native American communities in New Mexico, which include 23 sovereign nations. The proposed Farm Bill seeks to eliminate federal requirements that people receiving food assistance on Native American reservations be surveyed to determine which traditional foods are most common in the community.

“Native American nations have the right to govern their affairs and protect the health and well-being of their peoples,” said Cheryl Fairbanks, interim executive director of the Native American Budget and Policy Institute. “Not only do the proposed cuts in the Farm Bill violate the rules and trust between tribal sovereigns and the federal government, they would increase hardship for Native Americans families. We need to make sure that all of our kids have their basic necessities met.”

As of February 2018, 75,637 SNAP participants in New Mexico were Native American. The federal government must engage in government to government consultation prior to changing federal food programs that impact Native Americans. Pueblo, Navajo, and Apache governments must be able to determine the best way to address food security in their own communities.

“We know SNAP works in New Mexico. Cutting it would take food away from people struggling to make ends meet, and from children and working people,” said Townley. “When you are looking for a job, you need to be able to eat.”

The Farm Bill, a piece of legislation renewed every five years, includes the budget for food and agriculture programs, such as crop insurance and subsidies, rural development, SNAP, and other nutrition programs.

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

Court finds management problems prevent HSD from fixing food and medical benefits applications

ALBUQUERQUE—A federal court found that lack of leadership and accountability in the New Mexico Human Services Department prevents it from fixing entrenched problems in food and medical benefit administration.

In a ruling issued late yesterday, U.S. District Court Judge Kenneth Gonzales set a series of deadlines for HSD compliance with court ordered reforms and required the appointment of knowledgeable subject matter experts in supplemental nutrition assistance program (SNAP), Medicaid, and eligibility for families that include immigrants in the department’s Income Support Division.

“We’re very hopeful that this ruling will lead to much needed changes in the department’s leadership,” said Sovereign Hager, managing attorney at the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty. “For there to be permanent improvement in administration, the Human Services Department leadership must have expertise and management abilities that give front line workers the tools they need to ensure New Mexicans can get food and medical assistance. HSD is still not processing applications in time, leaving too many children and families unable to access basic necessities.”

In September 2016, Judge Gonzales held the HSD Secretary Brent Earnest in contempt for failing to remove barriers to assistance for eligible families. The court appointed a Special Master to monitor and make recommendations to the department.

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

In his ruling yesterday, the judge agreed with the Special Master’s January 2018 report finding that the current HSD management team lacks the sufficient “knowledge, skills, and abilities” necessary to ensure families receive information about their cases and get the assistance they need to eat and see the doctor.

The judge also found that the Income Support Division Director demonstrated “woefully” little knowledge of the court ordered changes to improve processing food and Medicaid applications despite the significant impact they had on the division’s mission and work.

The judge was also troubled by the ISD Director’s lack of knowledge of standard memoranda issued by her division, training procedures, and her admitted failure to speak with the Regional Operations Managers on how to address improving timeliness and efficiency.

“We hope the state will make the management changes that will end the need for such extensive oversight through the courts,” said Hager. “New Mexicans who are going through significant hardships shouldn’t have to fight with the state to get the food and medical care they need.”

Center attorneys working on the Deborah Hatten Gonzales v. Brent Earnest lawsuit include Sovereign Hager, Gail Evans, and Maria Griego. Civil rights attorney, Daniel Yohalem is lead counsel on the case.

The court’s ruling can be found here: http://nmpovertylaw.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/Doc.-836-Memorandum-Opinion-and-Order-2018-04-05-00000003.pdf