Annoucing Sireesha Manne as NMCLP’s executive director

The New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty is pleased to announce Sireesha Manne is taking the helm as our executive director. Sireesha has been serving as interim director since February, and has been an attorney with the Center for the last 10 years. With a strong commitment to New Mexico’s families, she has led and collaborated on successful major campaigns, including to expand healthcare access in the state. She is known for her high-caliber policy and legal advocacy, skill with developing effective strategies, and perseverance in achieving lasting results. She leads with a vision for economic and racial justice centered in our communities, and has over 20 years of experience working with nonprofit organizations.

A message from Sireesha:

The Center stands united with our families and community partners in advancing a bold movement for change in New Mexico. I am very grateful to be part of an exceptional and dedicated team as we enter the next chapter of our history — working together to make healthcare affordable for all, ensure every family has food security, fair wages, and financial well-being, and to pursue wholescale transformation of our public education system so that every child has the opportunity to succeed.

Thank you to everyone who has supported us over the years, to the many collaborators that have helped build the Center – both inside and outside the organization – and to all who have made this transition a success. I look forward to working with you in the months and years to come.

Sireesha Manne
Executive Director

Celebrating our Summer 2018 Legal Interns

The New Mexico Center for Law and Poverty would like to recognize its three outstanding summer legal interns: Yarrow Allaire, Erika Avila Stephanz, and Verenice Peregrino Pompa.

Yarrow Allaire

Yarrow Allaire worked with the Center’s Workers’ Rights team focusing on combating wage theft. She is a recipient of the Peggy Browning Fellowship for dedicated students who are interested in pursuing work in labor law and workers’ rights.

Allaire, who grew up on a small farm in Albuquerque’s South Valley, first chose teaching as a career. She taught geography to ninth graders in McAllen, Texas and later government, economics, and New Mexico history to high school students in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Her personal history and teaching experience made Allaire keenly aware of barriers to opportunity because of race, class, gender, and geography. She decided to go to law school to advocate for legal reforms that promote economic and social justice for all people.

Allaire holds a B.A. in Political Science from the University of New Mexico. She will graduate from the UNM School of Law in 2020.

Erika Avila Stephanz

Erika Avila Stephanz worked with the Center’s Fair Lending team, which advocates for access to fair loans under reasonable terms for all New Mexicans. She is a recipient of the Seth Montgomery Fellowship for outstanding law students who have demonstrated an interest in public interest law.

A native of Albuquerque, Avila Stephanz worked outside the state for several years. The stark inequality and lack of resources for so many New Mexicans, however, motivated her to pursue systematic change locally, and she plans to continue to address socioeconomic inequality in our state.

Avila Stephanz served on the executive board of the Mexican American Law Student Association (MALSA) and is a current member of the organization. She has a dual BA in Psychology and Spanish from the University of New Mexico. She will graduate from the UNM School of Law in 2019.

Verenice Peregrino Pompa

Verenice Peregrino Pompa worked with the Center’s Education team, focusing on equitable access to education for children in New Mexico, especially Native American children and children in juvenile detention. She is a recipient of the Craig Othmer Fellowship for committed students motivated to pursue a career in public interest law.

Peregrino Pompa’s personal experiences in the rural public schools she attended in Chihuahua, Mexico and the San Luis Valley in Colorado inspired her to fight for equal access to resources for all students. As a Mexican immigrant student in the San Luis Valley, Peregrino Pompa had firsthand experience with the lack of resources available to minority students, immigrant students, and English language learners (ELL). She looks forward to a future in public policy and advocacy.

Peregrino Pompa is the Multicultural Relations Editor of UNM’s Tribal Law Journal and the president of MALSA. She has a B.S. in Biology from the University of New Mexico and will graduate from the UNM School of Law in 2019.

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/

Judge rules New Mexico violates public school students’ constitutional right to sufficient educational opportunities

SANTA FE, NM – July 20, 2018 – A state court ruled today that New Mexico’s education system violates the state constitution because it fails to provide students a sufficient public education.

Families and school districts in the consolidated lawsuit Yazzie v. State of New Mexico and Martinez v. State of New Mexico sued the state for failing to provide public school students with a sufficient education as mandated by the state’s constitution. The lawsuit challenged the state’s arbitrary and inadequate funding of public schools as well as its failure to provide students with the programs and services needed to be college, career and civic ready. It alleged that the lack of necessary monitoring and oversight deprived students of the resources and services they need to succeed—particularly low-income, students of color, including Native American, English-language learners, and students with disabilities.

The plaintiffs are represented by the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty (the Center) and MALDEF (Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund).

“We are extremely gratified that the court has ruled in favor of children and families and recognizes the State’s failure to provide all of New Mexico’s public school students a sufficient education,” said Ernest Herrera, a MALDEF staff attorney. “Now, the State can no longer deny its legal responsibility to all New Mexico’s students.”

In her ruling, First Judicial District Court Judge Sarah Singleton affirmed the plaintiffs’ claims, stating:

“Therefore, the Defendants will be given until April 15, 2019, to take immediate steps to ensure that New Mexico schools have the resources necessary to give at-risk students the opportunity to obtain a uniform and sufficient education that prepares them for college and career. Reforms to the current system of financing public education and managing schools should address the shortcomings of the current system by ensuring, as a part of that process, that every public school in New Mexico would have the resources necessary for providing the opportunity for a sufficient education for all at-risk students.”

Gail Evans, lead counsel on the case for the Center, shared, “We owe it to the hundreds of thousands of children across New Mexico, in this generation and the next, to ensure the court’s ruling is implemented without delay. Now is the opportunity to transform public schools—the state knows what it needs to make available to our students: a quality education that is culturally and linguistically responsive and the necessary resources to make opportunities possible for all children who need them.”

During the eight-week trial, which began in June 2017, educational experts provided the Court testimony about the needs of New Mexico students and the systemic deficiencies undermining student success. Many school superintendents testified that their districts lack resources, quality programs, and state support, which also includes collaboration between districts and tribal communities.

“I just want my son to be prepared for life, to get a good job, learn strong ethics, and get life skills,” said James Martinez, a plaintiff in the Yazzie case. “My son just tested as gifted, but his school doesn’t have the curriculum or resources to push him to his full potential. The kids who are falling behind have it much worse. All kids should have the same opportunity to learn, progress, and succeed. The only way we can do that is by fixing our public schools and giving all kids a chance.”

Seventy percent of New Mexico students cannot read or write at grade level, 80 percent cannot do math at grade level and graduation rates are among the lowest in the nation, according to the New Mexico Public Education Department. Witnesses also testified that the state fails to address the needs of English-language learners by failing to provide sufficient access to quality bilingual/multicultural education programs.

During the trial, the State’s experts conceded that students at high-poverty schools have less access to effective teachers, yet the State has failed to provide adequate resources to improve teacher training, compensation, recruitment and retention.

The Martinez lawsuit was brought on behalf of parents and public school children from Española, Santa Fe, Albuquerque, Zuni, Magdalena, Las Cruces and Gadsden, including students who are English-language learners, Native American, economically disadvantaged or disabled. It was filed in April 2014 by MALDEF following extensive discussions with community groups, local leaders, and parents in New Mexico concerning chronic achievement gaps on standardized tests and other systemic failures. The state sought to dismiss the case but the court in Martinez denied the request, and ruled for the first time in New Mexico’s history that education is a fundamental right under the state constitution.

The Center’s Yazzie lawsuit was filed in March 2014 on behalf of a group of families and school districts including Gallup-McKinley, Rio Rancho, Santa Fe, Cuba, Moriarty/Edgewood, and Lake Arthur. The families represented have children who are English-language learners, Native American, Hispanic, low-income and have been negatively impacted by the lack of resources provided to New Mexico public schools.

A copy of the decision 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/

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/

Hearing on proposed small loan regulations Monday

CHAMA—The New Mexico Legislative Indian Affairs Committee will hold an interim legislative hearing in Chama on Monday regarding the Financial Institutions Division’s proposed regulations on HB 347, which imposes a 175 percent APR interest rate cap on small loans. The New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty and Prosperity Works will ask the committee to pass a resolution requesting the FID provide information about how it is enforcing this new law and present that report to the committee later this fall.

Before passage of HB 347 in the 2017 legislative session, most small loans were unregulated and interest rates were even higher. HB 347 ensures that borrowers have the right to clear information about total loan costs, 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.

While the law and proposed regulations signal progress for fair loan terms, much more work remains to be done to ensure fair access to credit for all New Mexicans. Storefront lenders with predatory business practices that trap people in a cycle of unaffordable debt have deep roots in the state and have aggressively targeted generations of low-income families and Native communities, pushing loans with high-interest rates or arbitrary fees with no regard for an individual’s ability to repay.

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

WHAT: 
Indian Affairs Committee interim legislative hearing on proposed HB 347 regulations, which impose a 175 percent interest rate cap on small loans.

WHEN:
Monday, July 2, 2018 at 12:30 p.m.

WHERE:     
Lodge and Ranch at Chama
16253 S Chama Highway 84, Chama, NM 87520
Chama, NM 87520

WHO:
Indian Affairs Committee
New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty
Prosperity Works
FID
Member of the public

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.

McKinley County Commission unanimously supports innovative ‘Medicaid buy-in’

Community need and widespread support inspired commission

GALLUP–The McKinley County Commission, after hearing powerful community testimony, on Tuesday unanimously passed a resolution in support of the state’s work to develop and implement an innovative plan to allow New Mexicans the opportunity to buy-in to the proven, trusted Medicaid healthcare system.

“With more than 16,000 McKinley residents still uninsured,” said Christopher Hudson from the McKinley Communities Health Alliance “We need to support innovative ideas that will help everyone in our communities get the health care they need. A Medicaid buy-in program is a great option to make quality care affordable and accessible.”

In the 2018 Legislative Session, both the House and the Senate passed memorials calling for the Legislative Health and Human Services Committee to explore the policy and fiscal implications of offering a Medicaid Buy-in plan to New Mexico residents.

By allowing McKinley County residents to buy-in to Medicaid for their health coverage, a state program would reduce uncompensated care for doctors and hospitals and would also save much-needed funding in the county’s indigent care funds.

“I know how hard it can be to access health care,” said McKinley County resident and Strong Families New Mexico healthcare advocate Althea Yazzie. “I’ve had to fight with insurance providers to get help to pay for my medications, my transportation, and my rheumatologist appointments. Being sick is hard. Getting better shouldn’t be. I’m proud of our county for supporting Medicaid buy-in.”

In addition to sharing the resolution with legislators to show the county’s support for a Medicaid buy-in plan, the resolution also adds Medicaid buy-in to McKinley County’s legislative priorities, meaning the county will work directly with legislators to advance the program.

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/