City of Anthony stands behind ‘Medicaid Buy-in’ 

Board of Trustees moved by local support and statewide momentum 

ANTHONY– The City of Anthony’s Board of Trustees, after hearing testimony from NM Together for Healthcare family leaders who live in Anthony, passed a resolution on Monday in favor of continuing the state’s efforts to shape a healthcare solution that would open up Medicaid for any New Mexican to buy into — regardless of their current Medicaid eligibility.

“All New Mexican families should have health insurance that allows them economic security and good health,” said Vanessa Urbina, Anthony resident and Strong Families New Mexico healthcare advocate. “Unfortunately, many New Mexican families, including over 25,000 Doña Ana County residents, do not have health insurance. Medicaid has worked for my family and many others. We should build on Medicaid by opening it up for everyone.”

Medicaid is a trusted program that provides quality, affordable healthcare to over 100,000 people in Doña Ana County. A well-designed Medicaid Buy-in plan would allow Anthony residents — like those that don’t qualify for Medicaid because of income or citizenship status—to buy into healthcare coverage offered through Medicaid.

Having more New Mexicans covered would reduce uncompensated care costs that are shifted to doctors and hospitals and reduce medical debt among families trying to build financial security.

“For some years, my husband and I could not walk without pain in our hips and waist, but thanks to Medicaid, we received the treatment we needed,” said Ramona Urbina, another a long-time Anthony resident and Strong Families healthcare leader. “Today my husband can work and so can I. We can still pay our bills. Everyone should have the right of good healthcare that they can afford.”

New Mexican leaders like the Urbina family are part of the NM Together for Healthcare campaign, a movement of diverse families and organizations from across the state working to build support for a Medicaid Buy-in plan.

The campaign has been successful in building support among policy makers across the state, and similar resolutions have passed with unanimous support in the City of Sunland Park and Bernalillo and McKinley Counties. The New Mexico House and Senate also passed a Medicaid Buy-in memorial to study a buy-in option with bipartisan support during the 2018 legislative session.

“Medicaid has helped my family improve their quality of life. My father had been running his own business for 20 plus years, and I was able to finish my University Bachelor degree in Public Health because we’ve been able to manage our health, focus on our goals, and go to the hospital without going into debt,” said Vanessa Urbina. “But many families are not eligible for Medicaid due to immigration status, or they just don’t know they are eligible. We are fighting to make sure that every New Mexican family has the chance to be healthy and create opportunities for themselves.”

The City of Anthony’s Board of Trustees will include this resolution in their legislative requests for the upcoming 2019 session and share the resolution with state legislators.

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NM Together for Healthcare is a statewide, multiracial campaign of families and community organizations working together to strengthen healthcare access in New Mexico supported by Strong Families New MexicoPartnership for Community ActionNew Mexico Center on Law and Poverty, and Health Action New Mexico. For information, visit http://nmtogether4health.org/ or email: nmtogether4healthcare@gmail.com.

Regulations on small loans law do not adequately protect borrowers

ALBUQUERQUE— The Financial Institutions Division issued regulations today implementing a state law that caps interest rates on storefront loans. The FID made almost no changes to the minimal regulations it proposed earlier this year, even though New Mexicans overwhelmingly asked the state to improve enforcement by collecting data on the industry, closing loan renewal loopholes, and requiring lenders to disclose the true costs of loans to borrowers and to make those disclosures in the language a borrower understands.

“All New Mexicans deserve access to fair and transparent loans under reasonable terms, but unfortunately, these regulations completely fail to fulfill the legislature’s  primary intent to protect borrowers,” said Lindsay Cutler, attorney at the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty. “In fact, they are so lacking in teeth that New Mexico families have no guarantees that the terms of their loans will be clearly explained to them. Worse still, the regulations are completely bare of mandatory data reporting requirements, which will make it impossible to verify that storefront lenders are actually following the law.”

Before passage of HB 347 in the 2017 legislative session, many small loans were unregulated and borrowers were frequently charged interest rates of 300 percent APR or more. Reforms to the Small Loan Act went into effect January 1, 2018, capping interest rates at 175 percent APR and eliminating traditional short-term payday and title loans.  All storefront and online loans made in 2018 must have a minimum loan term of 120 days, and require a minimum of four payments.

However, the FID did not issue regulations to reflect the new standards until today, a full eight months after the law went into effect. The regulations the division did issue do not require lenders to provide borrowers with meaningful information about the costs of their loans and the consumer protections required by the new law. The regulations also fail to address the need to make disclosures and financial information available in a language that the borrower understands.

“It’s unfortunate that New Mexico FID did not take the opportunity to include language assistance as part of the new regulations, knowing that a majority of border town small loans are from Navajo consumers. It is important that we continue to advocate for legal contracts to be explained in the Navajo language or any other language in which consumers are able to fully comprehend the contracts they are signing,” said Leonard Gorman, executive director of the Navajo Nation Human Rights Commission.

The new regulations also fail to close loopholes in loan renewals, which may extend old loan terms, leaving borrowers vulnerable to interest rates and fees that are now illegal under the law. In addition, the regulations do not require lenders to provide data on small loans, making it impossible to tell if storefront lenders are adhering to the law and how the law is impacting New Mexicans. The FID failed to explain why it elected to ignore the dozens of comments submitted by New Mexicans asking the division to enact meaningful consumer protections.

Without meaningful regulations and reporting requirements, the FID and legislators cannot verify that the consumer protections intended by the new law are reaching New Mexico families. This means that the small loan industry, which makes hundreds of millions of dollars from New Mexico families, will continue to operate without transparency.

“We’re pleased that the FID has, at long last, finalized and posted regulations to implement the 2017 law. However, these regulations do very little to address our concerns and lack the substantive consumer protections we have been advocating for,” said Michael Barrio, director of advocacy at Prosperity Works. “An appropriate regulatory framework that adequately addresses areas that allow lenders to continue to circumvent limitations and protections that have been put in place by the 2018 small loan reforms is absolutely necessary if we hope to honestly protect hard working New Mexicans from predatory lending practices.”

The finalized FID regulations can be found here: http://164.64.110.134/nmac/nmregister/adoptedxxix16

A factsheet on regulations the FID should enact to enforce the small loans act can be found here: http://nmpovertylaw.org/fact-sheet-fid-must-enact-regulations-to-enforce-the-small-loans-act-2018-07/

PED scraps retention rule for five to eight-year-olds

By Marina Candace Butler

We all want our children to be good readers – it’s critical for a successful life. We know that our children are just as capable of learning to read as kids anywhere, but they need the right programs that will actually help them learn.

Center staff attorney, Lauren Winkler discusses PED’s proposed rule and what we really need to improve literacy rates. Click here for video.

What we do know is that flunking kids does not help them learn. In fact, children who are held back don’t do as well in school and have a greater risk of dropping out. New Mexico already has one of the lowest graduation rates rates in the country—25 percent of our students don’t finish school. Despite this, the PED proposed a regulation that would require school districts to retain five to eight-year-olds in kindergarten through third grade if they don’t score at grade level on a single state-determined high stakes test.

Along with New Mexico families and other allies, the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty spoke out against the rule, and the department decided to stop its efforts to hold our youngest students back. Now those who know the child best can decide what steps should be taken to increase literacy.

Instead of broadening the ineffective and harmful practice of holding children back in school, we should increase access to the evidenced-based programs that actually help our children learn to read. For example, we know that PreK, K-3 Plus, extended learning time, and professional development closes achievement gaps.

Unfortunately, at least 52,000 New Mexico students do not have access to K-3 Plus. 23,000 don’t have access to full-day New Mexico Pre-K. Our teachers are among the lowest paid in the country. Instead of adopting these evidence based programs, the PED still intends to continue one-size-fits-all testing that fails our children and schools.

If we want our children and our state to succeed, we need to invest in the future of New Mexico’s children.

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.”

Press conference on Monday on Yazzie/Martinez education ruling

District court rules the State of New Mexico violates students’ constitutional rights

The New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty and MALDEF (Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund) will hold a press conference and a teleconference press briefing Monday to discuss the ruling in their consolidated lawsuit against the State of New Mexico (Yazzie v. State of New Mexico and Martinez v. State of New Mexico). The district court has ruled that the state fails to provide all public school students a sufficient education in violation of the New Mexico Constitution.

PRESS CONFERENCE INFORMATION

WHEN:     
Monday, July 23, 2018 at 10:00 a.m. MT

WHO:      
Center attorneys, MALDEF attorneys, education stakeholders, educators, parents, and students

WHERE:    
Washington Middle School Park
Northwest corner of Park SW and 10th Street SW
Albuquerque, NM 87102
See map at: https://goo.gl/maps/yLtVzHEpeJw

Join the press conference on Facebook Live: https://www.facebook.com/nmcenteronlawandpoverty/

TELECONFERENCE INFORMATION

WHEN:      
Monday, July 23, 2018 at 11:30 a.m. MT

WHO:     
Gail Evans, lead counsel, the Center
Preston Sanchez, attorney, the Center
Ernest Herrera, staff attorney, MALDEF
E. Martin Estrada, partner at Munger, Tolles & Olsen LLP and co-counsel to MALDEF
Veronica Garcia, superintendent, Santa Fe Public Schools

DIAL-IN:
877-830-2589 or 785-424-1736
Conference ID: New Mexico

WHY:         
The district court in Santa Fe has ruled that the state is responsible for failing to provide adequate educational opportunities to all public school children. The lawsuit brought by New Mexican families and six school districts asserts that the State of New Mexico’s inadequate funding of public schools and lack of necessary oversight deprives children – particularly low-income, Native American and English language learner students – of the education necessary to be ready for college, career, and civic life.

The ruling can be found here: http://nmpovertylaw.org/order-decison-2018-07-20/

Indian Affairs Committee asks for FID report on law capping store front loans  

CHAMA—At a legislative hearing in Chama today, the New Mexico Indian Affairs Committee passed a resolution asking the Financial Institutions Division to report on how it is enforcing a new law that caps interest rates on small loans and to provide data collected from lenders on the loan products they sell. The FID report is due for presentation to the committee later this fall.

“All New Mexicans deserve access to fair and transparent loans under reasonable terms, but generations of low-income families and Native American communities have been aggressively targeted by unscrupulous store front lenders,” said Lindsay Cutler, attorney at the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty. “The FID has a duty to enforce the new law and protect families from unfair lending practices. The new law went into effect in January, but FID still hasn’t updated its regulations to reflect the new standards. Without information on FID enforcement, we don’t have a clear picture of how the small loan industry is doing business with New Mexico families and how the new law is affecting New Mexicans. We’re grateful that the Indian Affairs Committee has asked the FID to report on its enforcement efforts.”

Before passage of HB 347 in the 2017 legislative session, most small loans were unregulated and borrowers were frequently charged interest rates of 300 percent APR or more. Reforms to the Small Loan Act are now in effect, capping interest rates at 175 percent APR and eliminating traditional short term payday and title loans. The new law requires lenders to provide clear information about the costs of loans, allows borrowers to develop a credit history when they make payments on small-dollar loans, and sets minimum contract terms for small loans, including at least four payments and 120 days to pay off most loans. Refund anticipation loans are exempt from those requirements.

The FID proposed regulations to implement HB 347 in late February 2018 to eliminate inconsistencies between the new law and the old payday lending regulations. Loan renewals, however, are not addressed by the FID’s proposed regulations. This loophole could leave borrowers vulnerable to interest rates and fees that are now illegal under the law for new loans. The Center urges the FID to close this loophole by clarifying that renewals are subject to the law’s fee limit, interest rate cap, and payment schedule requirements for new loans.

“Passing HB 347 was a necessary first step, but enforcing regulation and compliance with the law is the critical next step in protecting our families and ensuring that all New Mexicans have equal access to affordable loans and protection from predatory lending practices,” said Michael Barrio, Director of Advocacy for Prosperity Works. “The data and reporting transparency we seek is necessary to close loopholes that could render HB 347 ineffective, and to augment existing consumer protections in New Mexico. Our focus, now, is on creating transparency and eliminating loopholes that can be used to continue exploiting hard-working New Mexicans. We’re making progress every day.”

The FID’s proposed regulations can be found here: www.rld.state.nm.us/financialinstitutions/

The Center’s comments on the proposed regulations can be found here: https://wp.me/a7pqlk-10H

A factsheet on regulations the FID should enact to enforce the small loans act can be found here: http://nmpovertylaw.org/fact-sheet-fid-must-enact-regulations-to-enforce-the-small-loans-act-2018-07/

FID must fix loopholes in regulations to protect New Mexicans from predatory loans

GALLUP— The New Mexico Financial Institutions Division must close loopholes in storefront loan renewals and ensure greater transparency in the small loan industry, said the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty at a hearing in Gallup today. The FID held the hearing to gather public comment on its proposed HB 347 regulations. The law, passed during the 2017 New Mexico legislative session, imposes a 175 percent APR interest rate cap on small loans. Previous to its passage, most small loans were unregulated and interest rates were even higher.

Gallup, which is almost 50 percent Native American, has the highest concentration of storefront lenders in New Mexico with nearly 50 licensed lenders for a population of less than 23,000. Storefront lenders have long aggressively targeted low-income families and Native communities in the state, pushing loans with high-interest rates or arbitrary fees with little regard for an individual’s ability to repay.

“The Navajo Nation Human Rights Commission office receives a variety of consumer complaints about small loans that Navajo citizens enter,” said Leonard Gorman, executive director of the Navajo Nation Human Rights Commission. “Often times the Navajo consumer is an elder who has been misinformed or not informed of the conditions involving their loans.”

HB 347, in addition to the APR cap, strictly limits the fees that lenders are permitted to charge borrowers, eliminates interest-only payments on the majority of storefront loans, and stipulates that all such loans, except refund anticipation loans, have an initial maturity of 120 days.

Loan renewals, however, are not addressed by the FID’s proposed regulations. This creates a major loophole that leaves consumers vulnerable to interest rates and fees that are now illegal under the law for new loans. The Center urges the FID to close this loophole by clarifying that renewals are subject to the law’s fee limit, interest rate cap, and payment schedule requirements for new loans.

“All New Mexicans deserve access to fair and transparent loans under reasonable terms, including low-income families. But we have a lot of work to do to create a more inclusive economy in our state,” said Christopher Sanchez, supervising attorney at the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty. “Predatory lending has hurt New Mexican families and our economy in concrete ways, draining millions of dollars from the pockets of those who can least afford it. The FID can meaningfully address this damage to consumers in 2018 by first fixing the loopholes around loan renewals in its regulations.”

In New Mexico, storefront lenders frequently market and encourage borrowers to “renew,” “refinance,” or “rollover” their existing loans. High-cost small loans, with interest rates and fees that add up to several times the loan principal, are often nearly impossible for borrowers to pay off in the short terms that lenders offer.

For many people, the only solution at the end of the repayment period is to renew the loan and pay costly fees and extended high interest payments. Repeated renewals dramatically increase the cost of a small loan and make it extremely difficult for a borrower to calculate the long term financial consequences of the extension.

For example, a Zuni man with a full-time income was struggling to make payments on a $125 loan he took out from a Gallup company 10 years ago. When he was unable to pay back the principal, interest, and high fees by the date the loan was due, he renewed the loan rather than default. He has now renewed his loan over a dozen times and paid the company thousands of dollars in interest and renewal fees. He still cannot pay off the principal.

The FID’s proposed regulations also fail to address the lack of transparency in storefront lending practices. It is all too common in the industry for storefront lenders to mislead borrowers about the true cost of small loans through confusing contract terms, expensive and often useless add-on products, and by marketing loans that conceal long term costs. Because of this intentional subterfuge, it is often difficult or impossible for consumers to calculate the true costs of their loans.

“We should all be able to walk into a small loan store and see how much a loan will actually cost,” said Sanchez. “The market operates more effectively when all members of the public can understand the terms of the contracts they are entering. It’s important that the regulations ensure that loan terms are disclosed to borrowers in clear, straightforward terms.”

The Center also suggests the regulations include improved methods of data collection, greater protections for borrowers of refund anticipation loans, and expanded language accessibility.

“While a small loan business may have a Navajo employee interacting with the Navajo customers, our Navajo plaintiffs indicate that the Navajo employee does not speak the Navajo language well enough to communicate effectively with Navajo elders,” said Gorman. “The new administrative rules must include provisions for explaining the small loan entirely in the language preferred by the customers. Without a language assistance provision, Navajo consumers with difficulty understanding the English language will continue to be disenfranchised because they cannot fully understand the loan documents.”

The FID’s proposed regulations can be found here: www.rld.state.nm.us/financialinstitutions/

The Center’s comments on the proposed regulations can be found here: https://wp.me/a7pqlk-10H

The Center’s suggested changes to the proposed regulations can be found here: https://wp.me/a7pqlk-10I

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/

Wage theft lawsuit concludes in win for New Mexico workers

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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