Proposed ordinance blocks homeless shelter in Roswell

ROSWELL, NM — A proposed Roswell City Council ordinance blocking the construction or operation of a new or expanded homeless shelter in Roswell violates the U.S. and New Mexico Constitutions and the Fair Housing Act, charged the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty in a letter sent yesterday to the Roswell Mayor and City Council. The City of Roswell would be unable to meet vital housing needs and reduce homelessness if the proposed ordinance is passed because it imposes excessive zoning restrictions that exclude any new or expanded shelter from operating in the city.

“Everyone benefits when all community members have a safe place to sleep at night, access to running water, and bathrooms,” said Sovereign Hager, managing attorney at the Center. “There is a vital need for a bigger shelter in Roswell that can accommodate more individuals and families. Unfortunately, the ordinance would leave the city with no options for locating a much needed transitional housing facility, leaving people to sleep outdoors. Each night without shelter brings new threats of violence, malnutrition, and sickness.”

The proposed ordinance would restrict any new or expanded homeless shelter to two industrial zones in Roswell and impose, among other excessive requirements, that any transitional housing be on a plot of at least two acres and have an eight-foot fence. Zoning maps for the City of Roswell show that there are no plots in the restricted zones that are large enough.

There has been an exponential rise in homelessness in Roswell over the last few years. Instead of addressing the severe lack of housing and shelter in Roswell, the city began enforcing anti-camping ordinances that criminalize homelessness without providing access to shelter.

Not only is there a severe shortage of space in Roswell’s homeless shelters for the large numbers of people who need them, there is no current facility in Roswell that can take families. If, for example, a family made up of a mother and teenage boys is lucky enough to find a shelter, the children must be separated from their mother.

The vast majority of people experiencing homelessness in Roswell have mental and physical disabilities. Banning a new or expanded homeless shelter in the city violates the Fair Housing Act because it would discriminate against people with disabilities. The Fair Housing Act makes it illegal to deny access to housing on the basis of disability. The equal protection clauses of the U.S. and New Mexico Constitutions also prohibit laws that discriminate against people with disabilities.

The City of Roswell’s continued efforts to criminalize homelessness by issuing citations to people who sleep or otherwise occupy public places also violate the First, Eighth, and 14th Amendments. This is particularly true when the city knowingly fails to provide alternative housing options for people who are homeless.

The letter from the Center explains: “Individuals in this country have significant liberty interests in standing on sidewalks and in other public places, and in traveling, moving, and associating with others and that liberty is protected by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Punishing unhoused residents of Roswell for sleeping and possessing property outdoors violates the Eighth amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment because these actions are unavoidable for people who are homeless.”

The Center urges the City Council to table the proposed amendments to the Roswell Zoning Ordinance and instead, work in collaboration with community members to set up a task force of stakeholders to find an appropriate location for permanent supportive housing for individuals experiencing homelessness.

“Transitional housing is proven to increase community health and safety,” said Hager. “Research shows that housing stability improves physical and behavioral health outcomes and reduces the use of crisis services such as emergency departments, hospitals, and jails for individuals experiencing homelessness. Adequate transitional housing would improve the health and safety of both people experiencing homelessness and the surrounding community.”

A copy of the letter the Center sent to the mayor and city council can be found here: http://nmpovertylaw.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/Letter_Roswell-City-Attny_2018_04_04.pdf                                                  

Hearing on proposed small loan regulations today

SANTA FE, NM—The New Mexico Financial Institutions Division will hear public comment in Santa Fe today on its proposed regulations for HB 347, which imposes a 175% interest rate cap on small loans. The law, passed during the 2017 New Mexico legislative session, also ensures that borrowers have the right to clear information about loan total costs, allows borrowers to develop credit history via payments made on small-dollar loans, and stipulates that all such loans have an initial maturity of 120 days and cannot be subject to a repayment plan smaller than four payments of loan principal and interest.

While the law and proposed regulations signal progress for fair loan terms, much more work remains to be done to ensure a more inclusive economy for all New Mexicans. The New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty will urge the FID to revise the proposed regulations to improve disclosures and language regarding loan renewals so that all borrowers can understand the terms of their loans. The Center will also suggest the regulations include improved methods of data collection, expanded language accessibility, and greater protections for borrowers of refund anticipation loans.

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:    
FID Hearing on proposed HB 347 regulations

WHEN:
Tuesday, April 3, 2018 at 1:30 p.m.

WHERE:  
New Mexico Regulation and Licensing Department
Toney Anaya Building
Rio Grande Room on the 2nd Floor
2550 Cerrillos Road
Santa Fe, NM 87504

WHO:
New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty
Prosperity Works
FID
Members of the public

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.

 

NM Financial Institutions Division releases small loans law regulations

ALBUQUERQUE, NM – This week, the New Mexico Financial Institutions Division (FID) released highly anticipated regulations on a law which imposed a 175% interest rate cap on small loans. In addition to capping small-dollar loan APR, the law (HB 347) which passed during the 2017 New Mexico legislative session, ensures that borrowers have the right to clear information about loan total costs, allows borrowers to develop credit history via payments made on small-dollar loans, and stipulates that all such loans have an initial maturity of 120 days and cannot be subject to a repayment plan smaller than four payments of loan principal and interest.

HB 347 and the proposed regulations signal progress for fair loan terms and a more inclusive economy for all New Mexicans by eliminating short term payday loans and enacting the first statutory rate cap on installment loans. But, while HB 347 is progress towards ensuring that all New Mexicans have access to fair credit, regardless of income level, the 175% APR cap required by HB 347 remains unfair, unnecessarily high, and will result in serious financial hardship to countless New Mexicans.

“The proposed regulations are a first step in giving all New Mexicans access to fair credit, but we still have a long way to go. In the past, storefront lending in the state was largely unregulated, and hardworking people were forced to borrow at interest rates as high as 1500% APR, forcing them into in a never-ending cycle of high-cost debt,” said Christopher Sanchez, supervising attorney for Fair Lending at the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty. “All New Mexicans deserve a chance to more fully participate in our state’s economy. We hope to see additional regulations that would improve disclosures and language regarding loan renewals so that all borrowers can understand the terms of their loans.”

Storefront loans have aggressively targeted low-income families and individuals, with sometimes quadruple-digit interest rates or arbitrary fees and no regard for a family or individual’s ability to repay.

“Coupled with high interest rates and unaffordable payments, predatory loans prevent New Mexican families from building assets and saving for a strong financial future. These kind of unscrupulous lending practices only serve to trap people, rather than liberate them from cycles of poverty and debt,” said Ona Porter, President & CEO of Prosperity Works. “Enforcing regulation and compliance is a critical step in protecting our families.”

The implementation and enforcement of HB 347, via regulation and compliance examinations by the FID, aims to finally allow all New Mexicans to more fully and fairly participate in New Mexico’s economy. The momentum surrounding this issue was recently accelerated when New Mexico Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich cosponsored the Stopping Abuse and Fraud in Electronic (SAFE) Lending Act to crack down on some of the worst abuses of the payday lending industry and protect consumers from deceptive and predatory lending practices.

The regulations released early this week are the first round of proposed regulations. Before FID releases the second round, the department will be accepting public comment, including at a public rule hearing on April 3 in Santa Fe.

Federal Court to hear Special Master’s findings on illegal barriers to food and medical assistance on Thursday

ALBUQUERQUE, NM — On Thursday, in U.S. District Court in Albuquerque, Judge Kenneth Gonzales will hold a hearing on the court-appointed Special Master’s report regarding the New Mexico Human Services Department’s failure to comply with multiple court orders to timely and accurately provide food and medical assistance to eligible families. The court ordered 20 high-level employees to be present at the hearing.

In September 2016, Judge Gonzales held the HSD Secretary Brent Earnest in contempt for failing to remove barriers to assistance for eligible families and appointed a Special Master to monitor and make recommendations to the department. The Special Master issued a report in January 2018 finding that “the current HSD/ISD management team lacks sufficient knowledge, skills, and abilities to appropriately manage the program or bring it into full compliance with the Consent Decree.” The Special Master recommended that HSD take immediate action, including removing five high-level employees from the division that administers food and medical assistance, appoint qualified experts, and improve worker training.

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

WHAT:  
Court hearing on the Special Master’s Report (Doc. 810) on HSD compliance with court orders in Deborah Hatten Gonzales v. Brent Earnest (No. 88-385 KG/CG) and the objections to the Special Master’s Report (Docs. 812 & 813)

WHEN:
Thursday, March 1, 2018 at 9:00 a.m.

WHERE:
Pete V. Domenici United States Courthouse
440 Hondo Courtroom
333 Lomas Boulevard, N.W.
Albuquerque, NM 87102

WHO:
New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty attorneys
Special Master Lawrence M. Parker and Compliance Specialist Ramona McKissic
HSD Secretary Brent Earnest
HSD Deputy Secretary and General Counsel Christopher Collins
Income Support Division Director Mary Brogdon
19 other HSD staff members were also ordered to attend, including county directors, regional operations managers, a former deputy secretary, and assistant general counsel

New Native American Budget and Policy Institute seeks to empower indigenous communities to effect systemic change

SANTA ANA PUEBLO, NM — The new Native American Budget and Policy Institute (the Institute) will launch at an event Tuesday at Tamaya Resort located in Santa Ana Pueblo. The Institute will conduct research, budget and policy analysis, social justice advocacy, litigation, and community lawyering to empower Native American communities to create self-determined and systematic change that will improve their health, education, and economic well-being.

The Institute is a project of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) Center for Health Policy of the University of New Mexico, and the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty. It is funded, in part, by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation (WKKF). The Institute is an outgrowth of the work and ideas of the Leadership Institute at the Santa Fe Indian School.

“Our Native American communities deserve to be healthy, educated, and empowered,” said Cheryl Fairbanks, Esq., Institute Interim Executive Director (Tlingit/Tsimpshian). “We have the opportunity at this Institute to develop indigenous policies, which will have a positive effect to justify and access the much needed funding for our tribes. We are not the Indian problem; we are the Indian solution. This Institute is solution oriented and will provide the basis for bringing constructive change to our children, families, and communities here in New Mexico.”

The Institute seeks to forge an unprecedented collaborative pathway to racial equity in New Mexico and across the nation. By working in cooperation with Native American scholars at UNM, graduates of the Pueblo Indian Doctoral Program, as well as with tribal elders, the Institute will coordinate research activity across the state to improve public policy decisions at all levels of government through a Native American lens. The Institute will work in cooperation with the Leadership Institute at the Santa Fe Indian School and utilize the resources available at UNM as well as the expertise of the RWJF Center for Health Policy and the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty. It will also engage and mentor young Native American researchers and students in a variety of projects.

“As indigenous peoples, we have survived systemic oppressive governmental policies that sought to terminate our languages, our culture, and our way of life. Today it’s important that laws and policies are informed with a tribal perspective in a new collaborative way,” said Alvin Warren, Kellogg Foundation Program Officer for New Mexico programs. “We have learned from past assimilation policies, and we can now move forward to effect change for future generations.”

The Institute will soon develop the initial leadership structure and strategic plan with direction from its Governance Council, sworn in today, which includes representatives from the Pueblos and Tribes of New Mexico with extensive experience in leadership, law, medicine, behavioral health, education, and cultural literacy.

“We are in a new era of developing laws and policies based on our tribal core values, which have withstood the test of time. We stand on the shoulders of our ancestors, and it is their values that will enable us to heal and move forward,” said Regis Pecos, Leadership Institute Co-Director at the Santa Fe Indian School and Native American Budget and Policy Institute Co-Founder (Cochiti). “The Institute will provide a venue for collaboration, healing, and unity. Together, we can move forward in the spirit of respect and understanding, so we can truly make a difference here in New Mexico.”

One of the new organization’s first activities is a series of meetings, “Keeping the Child at the Heart of the Circle,” with partners that will start Wednesday. The colloquia will focus on incorporating culture, tradition, and healing into judicial systems. For example, one meeting will discuss offering a resiliency court and a peace circle model as options to improve current legal processes. Another panel of experts will share their knowledge on tribal, state, and federal relations.

In addition to Fairbanks, Institute staff includes Jasmine Yepa, JD who serves as Policy and Budget Analyst (Jemez). The Institute’s Governance Council includes Robert Apodaca, Motiva Corporation COO, former U.S. Department of Agriculture Assistant Chief of the West under the Obama administration; Hon. Arthur Blazer, Mescalero Apache President (Mescalero Apache); Dr. Gayle Chacon, Jemez Health and Human Services Interim Director (Diné); Hon. Walter Dasheno, former Governor of Santa Clara Pueblo (Santa Clara); Tara Gatewood, Native America Calling Host and Producer (Isleta/Diné); Dr. Michael Lipsky, Demos Distinguished Senior Fellow; Dr. Ken Lucero, Field Officer for U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich (Zia/Cochiti); Patricia Salazar Ives, Esq.,Cuddy & McCarthy, LLP Partner; Dr. Joseph Suina, UNM College of Education Professor Emeritus and former Governor of Cochiti Pueblo (Cochiti); Ingeborg Vicenti, Dulce Public Schools Mental Health Therapist (Jicarilla Apache); and Hon. Robert Yazzie, Native Nations Institute International Advisory Council Member at the University of Arizona and Chief Justice Emeritus of the Navajo Nation (Diné).

The W.K. Kellogg Foundation has supported the work of the Institute through a grant to the Regents of UNM of $1.5 million for a period of five years. Dr. Gabriel R. Sanchez, RWJF Center for Health Policy Executive Director, serves as the Principal Investigator of the grant.

 

Action Alert: Thank you for joining us in making healthcare accessible for all New Mexicans! 

Good news! The memorials to study a Medicaid buy-in option in New Mexico – House Memorial 9 and Senate Memorial 3 – both passed with strong bi-partisan support. The study is a first step toward an innovative new plan that would allow individuals and families in our state to buy low-cost coverage through Medicaid even if they do not qualify for it now. This would provide more people with affordable healthcare and create more choices in the insurance market.

This would not have happened without you. Thank you for joining us in acting to strengthen healthcare access for all New Mexicans!

Your advocacy means that our state Legislative Health and Human Services Committee will bring together experts and stakeholders to explore whether the Medicaid buy-in is a viable option for uninsured and under-insured New Mexicans.

If you have not already, please follow the New Mexico Together for Healthcare campaign to get updates and alerts about how you can take action to support the Medicaid buy-in study. You can sign up here to get involved and follow the campaign on social media – Twitter (@NMT4HC) and Facebook (@NMTogether4Healthcare) – and its website.

For additional details, please also see our factsheet. For any questions, do not hesitate to contact us.

Proposed cuts to Medicaid in Trump budget would have devastating impact on New Mexico

ALBUQUERQUE, NM — The proposed cuts to Medicaid in the Trump administration’s budget for fiscal year 2019 would prevent hundreds of thousands of New Mexicans from accessing healthcare. The budget, if approved by Congress, would cut Medicaid by $1.4 trillion dollars between 2019-2028; eliminate critical funding for Medicaid expansion, which provides over 250,000 New Mexicans with healthcare coverage; and end subsidies that help individuals and families when buying insurance through the marketplace.

“The drastic cuts to Medicaid would make healthcare unaffordable for millions of Americans and hundreds of thousands of New Mexicans,” said Abuko D. Estrada, attorney for the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty. “After handing out tax cuts to the richest households, the administration now wants to cut Medicaid by over a trillion dollars in the next decade. This would devastate New Mexico’s budget or force our state to ration healthcare to children, the elderly, people with disabilities, pregnant women, and low-income adults.”

The budget proposes the same cuts to Medicaid as last year’s bills in Congress to repeal the Affordable Care Act. It would cut funding for Medicaid and restructure the program into a per capita cap system. This would give New Mexico a set amount of Medicaid funding to spend per person rather than a federal match for the state’s actual costs. If New Mexico’s Medicaid costs grow faster than the cap amount, the state would be forced to make deep cuts to Medicaid benefits, services, and even eligibility.

A study last year conducted by the UNM Robert Wood Johnson Health Policy Center found that the combined Medicaid cuts could cost New Mexico more than $400 million per year or cause more than 250,000 people to lose coverage.

The New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty responds to Trump’s proposed cuts to food assistance

ALBUQUERQUE, NM—The New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty condemns President Trump’s 2019 budget proposal that slashes the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps, by $213 billion. The proposal would replace SNAP food dollars for households receiving over $90 a month in benefits with a shelf stable box of foods. With the proposed 30 percent cut to the program over the next ten years, New Mexico would also stand to lose $207.9 million to the state economy.

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

“In New Mexico and in our country, we have a shared commitment to make sure that no one in our community goes hungry. It is shocking that this administration would propose a shameful budget that would literally take food off the table for our children and families. The cuts would have an outsized impact on our state where one in four New Mexicans participate in SNAP, including 40 percent of our kids. The cuts to these food benefits would not only mean that more New Mexicans won’t have enough to eat, they would also increase poverty and inequality and make it harder to succeed in today’s economy.

“By any measure, the SNAP program has been a huge success. It’s long been our first line of defense against hunger and has other positive economic and health outcomes. Research shows SNAP contributes positively to children’s brain development, and children who participate in SNAP are healthier, do better in school, and have increased earnings over time. SNAP also greatly contributes to our local economy through an exemplary public-private partnership. SNAP dollars are spent in local food retailers across New Mexico contributing hundreds of millions in economic activity.

“What’s more, the proposed replacement of electronic benefit cards with government-issued canned food strips people of the basic dignity of being able to buy their own groceries just like everybody else. Rather than shaming people, the government should be shoring up the SNAP program to make sure that our neighbors and families all have enough to eat. What this administration seems to be doing instead is suggesting that children, the elderly, and disabled people should fund tax cuts for the wealthy. Our members of Congress should reject this indefensible proposal.”

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

Groups sue MVD for denying non-REAL ID licenses & ID cards to eligible New Mexicans

SANTA FE, NM – Today, civil rights groups and homeless advocates filed a class action lawsuit against the New Mexico Taxation and Revenue Department (TRD) and the Motor Vehicles Division (MVD) on behalf of New Mexicans who were illegally denied Driver’s Authorizations Cards (DACs) and non-REAL ID identification cards, charging that the state has failed to fully and correctly implement its two-tiered driver’s license law.

The requirement of unnecessary documentation for DAC’s and non-federally compliant ID cards has caused chaos at local MVDs and major confusion and frustration for applicants across New Mexico. The lawsuit challenges MVD’s onerous and illegal regulations governing the issuance of non-REAL ID 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.

The lead plaintiff, Santa Fe’s former Mayor David Coss, was denied a DAC four times at his local MVD because he lost his social security card, which is not a requirement under the law.  Coss, whose long-held driver’s license has since expired, was also not provided an adequate process to appeal the denial.

“A driver’s license and ID card are not luxuries,” said Coss at Monday’s press conference. “I’m the primary childcare provider to my toddler grandchildren, and I drive them around town. I’m also the guardian of my 86-year-old father who suffered a stroke last year. I need my license to carry out my daily responsibilities. I followed the law and took my paperwork into MVD before my license expired but was turned away every time. I know I’m not the only New Mexican dealing with this nightmare.”

Individual plaintiffs denied licenses and ID cards are joined by organizational plaintiffs, New Mexico Coalition to End Homelessness, and Somos Un Pueblo Unido (Somos) 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 plaintiffs include senior citizen, immigrant, 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.

“It is quite common for people to lose their ID and other paperwork when they become homeless,” said Hank Hughes, executive director of New Mexico Coalition to End Homelessness. “Getting a new ID is essential for them as they get back on their feet. You cannot rent an apartment or even a motel room without an ID. We are asking MVD to follow the law and make it possible for people to replace lost or stolen IDs quickly.”

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.

“REAL ID was always a bad idea,” said Peter Simonson, executive director of ACLU-NM.  “The spirit of the 2016 bipartisan fix is not being honored. The Legislature understood just how difficult getting a REAL ID license would be for many New Mexicans. That is why legislators worked hard to ensure people had an alternative, especially vulnerable New Mexicans like people experiencing homelessness, Native Americans, undocumented immigrants, senior citizens and people living in in rural communities.”

“After a protracted six-year battle on driver’s licenses, the New Mexico Legislature voted to create an alternative to the REAL ID Act for all New Mexicans, not just immigrants,” said Marcela Díaz, executive director of Somos Un Pueblo Unido. “For over a year, we worked with allied groups throughout the state to educate the public about its rights and advocate for a better process at MVD. Everyone has done their job except this administration. Our goal with this lawsuit is to help resolve these issues quickly for all New Mexicans.”

“An identification card is a basic necessity to function in everyday life, but the MVD is illegally requiring unnecessary and overly burdensome documentation that most folks simply cannot come up with. The harm caused by the illegal requirements is compounded by the MVD’s failure to provide a way for New Mexicans to challenge an erroneous denial of driver’s license or ID card.” said Sovereign Hager, supervising attorney at the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty. “The MVD should follow the law rather than wrecking the lives of people who need an ID to drive, support their families, and find housing.”

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

Click here to view a copy of the complaint: http://nmpovertylaw.org/coss-v-monforte-january-2018/

Click here to view plaintif profiles: http://nmpovertylaw.org/plaintiff-stories-coss-v-manforte-lawsuit/