Facing this Emergency Together

Friends,

Protecting our families, loved ones and community is at the top of all our minds as we face this public health emergency together. The Covid-19 pandemic brings enormous challenges—practicing social distancing for our health and safety, while also responding to the economic consequences. As businesses close down, thousands of people are losing their jobs. More than 10,000 New Mexicans filed for unemployment benefits in just one week. 

This crisis exposes long-standing inequities for working families, and demands urgent action. It has made it abundantly clear that what we fight for—healthcare, housing, income and food support, childcare, workers’ rights, and educational opportunities—is fundamental to our communities.

The New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty sent recommendations to our state leaders calling for a united and comprehensive response. We have been circulating “know your rights” information and critical updates about actions being taken at the national and state levels to bring down healthcare costs, expand income assistance, and prevent evictions and utility shut offs. Please join us in sharing this information widely with your networks and on social media, and stay tuned for alerts about ways to get involved as we work with you and our community partners on solutions.

We thank our Governor and policymakers for their leadership. We know there is much more to do. We vow to stand with you as we face this together.

Sincerely,
Sireesha Manne

Paid sick leave, halting evictions & benefits terminations necessary to mitigate COVID-19 impact on New Mexicans

Groups provide state leaders multiple strategies to protect New Mexico’s residents

ALBUQUERQUE—Advocacy groups from across the state urged New Mexico’s leaders to exercise their emergency powers and provide emergency assistance, access to healthcare, and other relief to stem the rising financial insecurity and income inequality caused by the coronavirus crises. 

The recommendations were sent to Governor Lujan Grisham, Attorney General Balderas, Chief Justice Nakamura, Speaker Egolf, Senator Papen, Mayor Keller, Mayor Webber, Mayor Hull, and Mayor Miyagishima. 

“Our state’s response must focus on and involve the communities already experiencing the impact of economic inequality,” states the letter sent by the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty, Forward Together, Strong Families New Mexico, Lutheran Advocacy Ministry – New Mexico, New Mexico Coalition to End Homelessness, New Mexico Voices for Children, NM Comunidades en Acción y de Fé – CAFé, Health Action New Mexico, United South Broadway, Fair Lending Center, Southwest Organizing Project (SWOP), Catholic Charities – Archdiocese of Santa Fe, New Mexico Social Justice Equity Institute, McKinley Co. Assn. of Retired Educators, and multiple individuals.

Recommendations include:

Protect workers 

  • Enact emergency paid sick leave and pass local paid sick leave ordinances that guarantee paid sick leave for all workers. 
  • Eliminate the one-week delay in unemployment benefits. 

Ensure economic security 

  • Create a new emergency income assistance program. 
  • Stay wage garnishments and bank levies in the courts. 
  • Streamline access to Medicaid, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and cash assistance for workers who have lost their jobs by allowing enrollment when filing for unemployment insurance. 
  • Extend eligibility, suspend work requirements and sanctions, and delay all public benefits recertification requirements. 

Healthcare for all 

  • Provide for immediate access to healthcare through Medicaid for all Medicaid applicants.  
  • Assure immigrant communities that screening and treatment for COVID-19 do not impact public charge determinations and will not have immigration consequences. 
  • Ensure hospitals and clinics are safe spaces regardless of immigration status.  
  • Require employers maintain health insurance benefits regardless of reduction of work hours resulting from the pandemic. 
  • Call for a federal amendment to the Medicaid statutes to add a state option extending coverage to the uninsured for all medical services in connection with COVID-19. 

Moratorium on evictions, foreclosures, towing, and utility shut offs 

  • Stay all court eviction and foreclosure proceedings statewide to slow the spread of COVID-19 and prevent an increase in homelessness in New Mexico.   
  • Create a rent relief fund to help impacted families. 
  • Stop all utility shut offs. 
  • Place a moratorium on towing vehicles. 

Include all New Mexicans in the response to this crisis 

  • Protect New Mexicans without homes by providing emergency resources to shelters and on-location medical care.
  • Local governments should affirm their institutional commitment to all immigrant community members who may be targets of xenophobic behavior. 
  • Reduce the number of people in custody and release nonviolent defendants and people serving sentences for nonviolent offenses. 

The groups commend government officials and state leaders for the expedient initial steps already taken to mitigate the harm New Mexicans are facing. However, the groups maintain that much remains to be done without delay to protect the wellbeing of all New Mexico’s families.  

The full recommendations can be found here: http://nmpovertylaw.org/strategies-to-mitigate-covid-19-impact-on-nm-2020-03-18/

5 things you should know about your rights as a worker during coronavirus

By Stephanie Welch, director of Workers’ Rights

Termination
Your employer can’t fire you if you are placed in isolation or quarantine. Employers who violate this legal protection could owe up to $5,000 in penalties.

Unemployment
If you are laid off or furloughed because of COVID-19, you are eligible for unemployment benefits. Contact the Department of Workforce Solutions for more information. . You can apply for unemployment benefits online at www.jobs.state.nm.us or by calling DWS at (877) 664-6984.

Privacy Rights
Your employer has to keep all medical information about you private and confidential. This includes if you have the coronavirus.

Discrimination
It is illegal for employers to mistreat you because of your race, national origin, or ethnic background. This means your employer can’t treat you differently than your coworkers because you are Asian or from another country affected by coronavirus. Contact the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission if you are facing discrimination at work. 

Sick Leave
If your employer provides you with paid sick leave when you are ill or need medical treatment, it must allow you to take that paid leave to care for a family member. Family member means a spouse or domestic partner, parent, grandparent, great-grandparent, child, foster child, grandchild, great-grandchild, brother, sister, niece, nephew, aunt, or uncle.

Please call 505-255-2840 with any questions. Watch the video in English or Spanish. Get the handout in English or Spanish.

Report shows gaps in New Mexico’s early childhood agenda

ALBUQUERQUE—According to a new report, more investment in home visiting, child care assistance, cash assistance, and minimum wage enforcement would significantly improve New Mexico families’ stability and economic outlook. The report, “New Mexico’s Infant Toddler Agenda,” was authored by the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty and the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP).

“Every child should have the opportunity to succeed in life, yet nearly a third of New Mexico’s 70,000 infants and toddlers live in poverty. Across the board, state investments are too low in programs that address economic barriers and support opportunities for families with young children,” said Sovereign Hager, legal director at NMCLP. “Every family should have safe and affordable child care, sound parental support, and resources to pay for necessities. But there are huge gaps between what programs work for families and what our state funds.” 

Children’s growth and development are shaped by early life experiences. Good health, empowered families, and positive early learning environments foster children’s physical, intellectual, and social-emotional development. Culturally and linguistically appropriate programs and policies that are developed in collaboration with local communities are also essential to their success. 

Home visiting empowers parents 

In New Mexico, home visiting services provide support, coaching, and resources for parents from trained professionals during pregnancy and in children’s earliest years. Home visiting improves children’s mental and physical health, supports school readiness, and helps keep children and families safe. 

However, the report notes the lack of home visiting programs in New Mexico and that few programs are culturally and linguistically relevant to the state’s diverse communities. In New Mexico, an estimated 157,600 children—half of whom are infants and toddlers—were eligible for home visiting programs in 2017 but only approximately 5,000 slots were available in 2018. 

The report recommends that New Mexico fully leverage Medicaid dollars for home visiting and expand its current pilot program to include all Medicaid-eligible families.

Child care assistance provides high-quality child care and early education opportunities

The state’s Child Care Assistance Program makes it possible for low-income parents to work or go to school while providing their children with a safe place to learn and grow. The report notes that when families have access to child care assistance, they are better able to access high quality child care and have more resources for basic needs. They also have far fewer child care related work disruptions.

Unfortunately, even after increases to the program’s budget this year, the vast majority of families in New Mexico face high out of pocket costs even when they get assistance. Eighty one percent of families who receive child care assistance in New Mexico had to pay a share of costs in 2017 compared to the national rate of 62%.

Data shows that too many families simply cannot afford to participate in the program. Enrollment falls for families earning between 25% and 50% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines—when New Mexico starts imposing unaffordable co-payments.

The report recommends New Mexico eliminate co-payments for families living below 100% FPG and cap out of pocket costs at affordable levels for other families.

Families also face a steep “cliff effect” when their incomes exceed the eligibility threshold for the program. In many cases, this leaves families much worse off than they were before an increase in wages.

In New Mexico, families can earn a maximum of 250% of the FPG (equivalent to $53,325 for a family of three in FY 2019) before becoming ineligible for assistance. The report recommends tiered eligibility policies to smooth the cliff effect by gradually reducing assistance as income rises.

Increasing and enforcing the minimum wage supports economically stable families 

New Mexico’s minimum wage increase went into effect in January 2020. The report notes that an estimated 100,600 children will be helped by their parents’ increased wages.

However, workers can’t benefit from a minimum wage increase if the law isn’t enforced. Too many New Mexico workers are paid less than the minimum wage because employers violate the law. The New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions has a statutory obligation to enforce the law, but DWS is underfunded and overwhelmed by a backlog of over 1,800 wage complaints. One in five workers has been waiting for their case to be investigated or to be paid wages owed for over a year and a half. Some have been waiting as long as eight years. 

The report recommends the state strategically and robustly enforce the law to maximize benefits to workers and their families.

Improving cash assistance to support economically stable families

Increased income during early childhood is associated with improved health, better school performance, and even increased earnings later in a child’s life. Even a small amount of additional income can be a stabilizing force, allowing parents to purchase diapers, groceries, or other household necessities. 

Although many families with low incomes could benefit from cash assistance, which provides a temporary monthly benefit and work supports for parents, only a small percent in New Mexico qualify for help because of limited eligibility, ineffective work requirements, and time limits for children. 

The assistance itself is minimal and does not provide enough for families to live on while seeking employment. 

The report recommends New Mexico improve its cash assistance program by offering flexibility, exemptions from work requirements, and allowing children to receive benefits when parents become ineligible or reach time limits.

“Strong investments in programs that impact early childhood are proven to increase well being and economic opportunity for families, but too many of New Mexico’s families with infants and toddlers aren’t able to access programs that would help them the most,” said Hager. “Our state government has an obligation to fix this and must prioritize an agenda that focuses on opportunity for families with young children. This means adequate resources towards programs and services for families with young children, investment in culturally and linguistically relevant programming, and work across agencies to streamline and integrate eligibility and enrollment processes.”

“New Mexico’s Infant Toddler Agenda” can be found here: http://nmpovertylaw.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/CLASP_NewMexico_infants_brochure3.pdf

Community advocates celebrate Bernalillo County Sick Leave Ordinance but call for improvements

ALBUQUERQUE—Worker and community organizations support the Bernalillo County ordinance that gives employees paid time off for health, family, and domestic violence related issues, but call for improvements so it helps more working people.   

“We are disappointed that the ordinance was watered down, but we still believe this is a victory for Bernalillo County’s working families. Everyone needs paid time off when they are sick, and this law makes that a reality for more people,” said Zeke Sanchez-Taylor with OLÉ.

In a questionable political maneuver, after Bernalillo County Commissioners passed the ordinance on August 20, business lobbyists began pressuring commissioners to weaken it. 

In response, Commissioners Pyskoty and Quezada introduced an amendment to limit its coverage. It requires businesses with two to ten employees provide only 28 hours of leave. Businesses of this size represent 80% of businesses in the county. The same amendment requires larger businesses provide between 44 and 56 hours of leave annually depending on their size.

In addition, Commissioner O’Malley introduced amendments to have the ordinance go into effect in January instead of July and to remove the 90 day delay for workers to accrue paid time. Commissioner Quezada also introduced an amendment that would increase the penalty to employers who retaliate against their workers.

All amendments passed.

Workers and community advocates called on commissioners to stick with the original ordinance passed through an open democratic process. The original ordinance guaranteed 56 hours of paid time off to workers at businesses with at least two employees in unincorporated areas of the county. Workers would accrue one hour of paid time off for every 32 hours they work.  

“Workers are the cornerstone of our local economy, and we are proud of their contributions,” said Olga Santana with El CENTRO de Igualdad y Derechos. “We urge the Bernalillo County Commissioners to do what is best for working families in the future.”

“After several open, deliberative, and fair hearings, the Bernalillo County Commission passed a compromise paid time off ordinance,” said Eric Griego with New Mexico Working Families Party. “This amended ordinance is much weaker, but we hope to work with current and future commissioners to improve its coverage and enforcement.”

“Providing only 28 hours of earned paid time off for 80% of businesses in the county severely underestimates the real needs of workers experiencing real health or personal challenges like extended illnesses or addressing domestic violence,” said Stephanie Welch with New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty.  “Twenty-eight hours of leave per year to take care of yourself, family or loved ones is simply not enough for most employees. It should be increased in the future.”

Background

The Chair of the Bernalillo County Commission, Maggie Hart-Stebbins, introduced the original earned sick leave ordinance on May 14, 2019. After consulting with business and community groups, she introduced a compromise earned paid time off ordinance on June 25 that incorporated several of their suggestions. 

At the August 20 commission meeting, several additional amendments requested by business groups were made, including phasing in the ordinance over three years, delaying the start date until July 2020, reducing the penalties for non-compliance, and extending the time for county officials to investigate and exhaust remedies before an employee would be eligible to bring a complaint before the district court. 

At that same meeting, Commissioner Pyskoty introduced an amendment that would have severely limited the ordinance’s coverage. The majority of the Commission rejected the Pyskoty amendment. The ordinance passed with a three to two majority, with Commissioners Hart-Stebbins, O’Malley, and Quezada voting in favor. 

Bernalillo County passes paid time off law!

By Stephanie Welch, supervising attorney for Workers’ Rights 

The Bernalillo County Board of Commissioners passed a new law on Tuesday that ensures hardworking people don’t have to choose between a paycheck and taking time off to care for themselves or a loved one.

Unfortunately, most workers making low wages have no paid sick leave. If they or a family member become ill, they have to choose between getting paid and getting better. Those who can least afford to lose any income are the most likely to have to face that choice. 

Starting next July, people working in the unincorporated areas of Bernalillo County will have the right to 24 hours of paid leave a year. The number of hours of leave will increase each year until it reaches 56 in 2022. The ordinance is clear, simple, and easy to implement. It is the result of years of advocacy by workers, parents, survivors of domestic violence, medical professionals, teachers, and caregivers.

Unfortunately the ordinance doesn’t address the great need for paid sick leave in the City of Albuquerque. 35% of workers in Albuquerque lack access to paid sick leave.

That is about 106,000 people who work and live in Albuquerque and who cannot take time off to get medical care, heal, escape an abusive situation, or care for a loved one without losing much-needed income and risking being fired.

This is not just a local problem, it’s a statewide problem. New Mexico has the highest percentage among U.S. states of workers without access to paid sick leave. Thankfully Bernalillo County officials are trying to do something about it. Now the city, and the state, should follow their lead.

Bernalillo County Commission to Vote on Paid Sick Leave/Paid Time Off Ordinance

Bernalillo County– The Bernalillo County Commission will vote on a paid sick leave/paid time off ordinance Tuesday, August 20 at 4:00 p.m. in the Vincent E. Griego Chambers at One Civic Plaza. Supporters and advocates of paid sick days will be attending to share testimonies in support of having paid sick leave for hardworking families and urge commissioners to vote “Yes” to help build a thriving community and economy. 

WHAT: County Commission to Vote on Bernalillo County Paid Sick Leave Ordinance

WHEN: Tuesday, August 20, 2019 at 4:00 p.m.

WHERE: Vincent E. Griego Chambers, One Civic Plaza, Albuquerque, NM

WHO: Supporters and Advocates of paid sick leave

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Supporters of the paid sick leave ordinance includes: AARP, Center for Civic Policy, El Centro de Igualdad y Derechos, Enlace Comunitario, Equality New Mexico, the New Mexico Center on Law & Poverty, New Mexico Voices for Children, New Mexico Working Families Party, OLÉ, Strong Families New Mexico, and the United Food & Commercial Workers.

Survivors of Domestic Violence to Hold Press Conference in Support of Paid Sick Leave Bill

Albuquerque, NM– Survivors of domestic violence and advocates for paid sick leave will hold a press conference in support of Bernalillo County’s paid sick leave ordinance on Monday, August 19 at 11:30 a.m. at Enlace Comunitario (2425 Alamo Ave SE). Supporters of paid sick days will be attending to share their testimonies of how this bill will help others in similar situations and how paid sick leave can be considered as paid “safe time”.

WHAT: Survivors of domestic violence share why paid sick leave can help others

WHEN: Monday, August 19, 2019 at 11:30 a.m.

WHERE: Enlace Comunitario, 2425 Alamo Ave SE, Albuquerque, NM 87106 

WHO: Domestic violence survivors and advocates for paid sick leave

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Supporters of the paid sick leave ordinance includes: AARP, Center for Civic Policy, El Centro de Igualdad y Derechos, Enlace Comunitario, Equality New Mexico, the New Mexico Center on Law & Poverty, New Mexico Voices for Children, New Mexico Working Families Party, OLÉ, Strong Families New Mexico, and the United Food & Commercial Workers.

Workers win wage theft fight against former owners of Kellys Brew Pub

ALBUQUERQUE—The former owners of Kellys Brew Pub and Restaurant violated Albuquerque’s minimum wage ordinance, Judge Benjamin Chavez of the Second Judicial District Court ruled late Friday. The court also determined that because Kellys failed to follow the rules for paying the tipped minimum wage, the former owners owed their employees the full minimum wage for those hours worked. 

Under Albuquerque’s minimum wage ordinance, if employers fail to pay workers their full wage, they must pay triple the wages that were withheld as well as attorneys’ fees. The business and the business owners, executives, and officers can be liable. A trial to determine the exact amount of damages and attorneys’ fees the business and its owner owe the servers is currently set for October 2019.

“This victory puts all restaurants on notice that they must pay every worker, by law, for every hour they have worked,” said Bianca Garcia, a plaintiff in the case. “The law is on the side of fair pay. Dennis and Janice Bonfantine should be ashamed of themselves for going through such extremes—trying to overturn the minimum wage law altogether—just to avoid paying back the money they took from us.”

15 servers, represented by Youtz & Valdez, P.C. and the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty, brought the class action lawsuit, Atyani v. Bonfantine, in April 2016 on behalf of about 150 former servers who worked at Kellys from 2013 to 2016. The lawsuit contends that after city voters overwhelmingly passed a ballot initiative in 2012 raising the Albuquerque minimum wage, the Bonfantines “settled on an unlawful response to the wage increase: servers would pay for it themselves, out of their tips.” 

Kellys required servers to pay their employers cash each shift, calculated at two percent of their total daily sales, plus three dollars per hour they worked on the clock. After making these required payments to their employer, servers sometimes owed more in cash than they had actually earned in cash tips during the shift. When this happened, servers were required to pay the difference from their wallets or their paychecks. 

To defend against these claims, the Bonfantines argued that the Albuquerque minimum wage was invalid because it was increased through a voter initiative that put a summary of the wage increase on the 2012 ballot rather than the entire ordinance. In May 2017, the Second District Court rejected this argument, ruling that any challenge to how the 2012 election was conducted must have been made right after the election.

“Albuquerque’s minimum wage law has teeth. Unscrupulous employers who don’t pay their workers the legal wage can be sued and end up paying much more in damages than if they had just paid their employees fairly,” said Stephanie Welch, supervising attorney with the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty. “Workers have the right to a fair and legal wage. This includes people who work for tips.” 

“The Kellys servers showed incredible persistence in fighting the Bonfantines, who literally took their hard-earned money out of their pockets,” said Shane Youtz, an attorney at Youtz & Valdez, P.C. “We encourage every employee who is a victim of wage theft to come forward. You deserve to collect every dollar you worked for and are owed.“

Attorneys on the case are Stephanie Welch and Sovereign Hager of the Center and Shane Youtz and James Montalbano of Youtz & Valdez, P.C.

The order on Atyani v. Bonfantine can be found here: http://nmpovertylaw.org/case-law-summary-judgement-order-atyani-v-bonfantine-2019-07-12/

The transcript of the hearing in which the judge explains his ruling can be found here: http://nmpovertylaw.org/transcript-atyani-v-bonfantine-hearing-ruling-only-2019-05-29/

The Atyani v. Bonfantine complaint can be found here: http://nmpovertylaw.org/complaint-kellys-final-2016-04-28-filed

Law guaranteeing basic wage protections for home care and domestic workers goes into effect today

SANTA FE—A law goes into effect today that ensures home care and domestic workers—the people who clean homes and deliver care for others—are protected by New Mexico’s minimum wage standards and other wage protections.

Under the Domestic Service in Minimum Wage Act, domestic and home care workers are now covered by New Mexico’s wage laws, and the New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions can investigate their complaints, enforce their rights, and recover their wages and damages.

“Talking with domestic workers, we have found that this is a growing industry and many of these workers in the past didn’t have anywhere to go to when they have been the victims of wage theft,” said Hilaria Martinez, a community organizer for El CENTRO de Igualdad y Derechos.

“Our domestic worker committee has found that cases like these keep increasing, especially to women in this field and other minorities in our community,” Martinez added. “Therefore, after years of hard work and community organizing, I am glad to see this law go into effect to deter workplace exploitation for domestic workers and for them to finally be valued like any other worker in our state.”

Domestic workers have been left out of many labor protections throughout history, and typically had very few options when they were not paid.

The Domestic Service in Minimum Wage Act, sponsored by Sen. Liz Stefanics and Rep. Christine Trujillo, ended the exemptions for domestic workers from New Mexico’s wage laws—as has already been done at the federal level.

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

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

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

In the 2017 New Mexico legislative session, the New Mexico Caregivers Coalition successfully spearheaded Senate Joint Memorial 6 that created a statewide taskforce to recommend short-term and long-term actions to promote a stable and growing workforce to meet the needs of seniors and individuals with disabilities who rely on these services in order to live independently in their communities.

“There is nothing more important than taking care of New Mexico’s children, elderly, and family members with disabilities,” said Alicia Saenz a member of El CENTRO de Igualdad y Derechos. “It is invisible work and historically, our work has not been given the value it deserves. I am proud to provide these services to my community. The implementation of this law today is a step in the right direction to give domestic workers the respect and dignity they deserve.”

“This law was the result of people doing some of the toughest jobs—like caring for others’ loved ones—coming from around the state, sharing their stories, and speaking up for fairness,” said Stephanie Welch, supervising attorney at the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty. “Domestic and home care workers are now entitled to the state minimum wage and can file a claim with DWS when they are not properly paid.”  

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

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

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