Court asked to order HSD to implement plan to remove barriers to food and medical assistance  

HSD and Center on Law and Poverty jointly drafted the court approved corrective action plan the department now refuses to adopt  

LAS CRUCES—Families continue to go without food and medical assistance they are eligible for because the New Mexico Human Services Department has failed to implement major elements of a corrective action plan the department itself helped draft and the court approved and mandated. In a motion filed yesterday evening on behalf of plaintiffs in the lawsuit Deborah Hatten Gonzales v. David Scrase, the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty asked a U.S. District Court to order HSD to comply with the plan, set deadlines, share information, and meet with plaintiffs.

“No family should have to go hungry or be without health coverage, but that’s exactly what’s happening in New Mexico,” said Teague Gonzalez, supervising attorney at the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty. “We were encouraged by the plan we developed with HSD, but the department has stopped cooperating and is refusing to set deadlines and fix long standing problems. HSD needs to implement the plan they agreed to immediately.”

While HSD has made some progress, serious failures continue. In the motion, the Center charges that HSD has refused to implement a corrective action plan and court ordered changes including: 

  • Improving its notoriously faulty IT system so families with immigrant members are not illegally denied benefits or required to provide documents that are not necessary to get benefits for eligible family members; 
  • Fixing the language in form notices so they explain how families can prove their eligibility to maintain their food and medical assistance and clearly understand why they are denied benefits; and
  • Implementing basic eligibility content into a worker manual, improve regulations and worker training. 

The court mandated a review of HSD case files that was completed in February 2019. In this audit, the Center found tremendous errors in 67 percent of all cases involving immigrant families. Of these, 60 percent resulted in a delay of one month or more receiving assistance.

In 2016, the court held former HSD Secretary Brent Earnest in contempt for failing to remove systemic barriers to assistance for eligible families applying for food and Medicaid assistance and appointed a Special Master to monitor and make recommendations to the department.

Judge Kenneth Gonzales set a series of deadlines in April 2018 for HSD compliance with court ordered reforms. Under new HSD Secretary David Scrase, plaintiffs and HSD jointly drafted, and agreed upon, a corrective action plan that the court approved in July 2019. However, HSD hired a new acting general counsel in August 2019 and collaboration has halted.

The long-running Hatten-Gonzales lawsuit was originally filed in 1989. While some progress has been made, HSD has never satisfactorily addressed entrenched problems in administering food and medical assistance. In 2016, HSD whistleblowers testified that there was a statewide policy of falsifying information on emergency benefits applications so the agency could pass federal audits and deadlines. This illegal policy resulted in thousands of New Mexican families going without the food assistance they needed.

There will be a status conference on the state’s compliance with the multiple court orders to remove barriers to food and medical assistance for eligible families tomorrow at 10:00 a.m. in U.S. District Court in Las Cruces before Judge Kenneth Gonzales.

The court motion can be found here: http://nmpovertylaw.org/hatten-gonzales-v-earnest-motion-to-enforce-judgment-2019-11-19/

The New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty report on its case review can be found here: http://nmpovertylaw.org/nmclp-report-on-hsd-case-review-2019-02-25-redacted/

The jointly developed corrective action plan can be found here: http://nmpovertylaw.org/hatten-gonzales-v-scrace-joint-motion-to-approve-two-corrective-action-plans-2019-07-10/

Court hearing Thursday on HSD compliance with orders to remove barriers to food and medical assistance

LAS CRUCES—On Thursday at 10:00 a.m., in U.S. District Court in Las Cruces, Judge Kenneth Gonzales will hear an update on the New Mexico Human Services Department’s compliance with multiple court orders to remove barriers to food and medical assistance for eligible families.

In September 2016, Judge Gonzales held former HSD Secretary Brent Earnest in contempt for failing to remove barriers to assistance for eligible families. The court appointed a Special Master to monitor and make recommendations to the department. In April 2018, the judge set a series of deadlines for HSD compliance with court ordered reforms.

In July of 2019, the court approved a jointly-developed corrective action plan to address systemic barriers to food and medical assistance. Thursday’s status conference will include updates from both parties and the Special Master on the status of HSD’s implementation of the plan.

WHAT:

U.S District Court status conference on HSD compliance with court orders in Deborah Hatten Gonzales v. David Scrase, No. 88-385 KG/CG    

WHEN:

Thursday, November 21, 2019 at 10:00 a.m.

WHERE:

United States Courthouse, 4th Floor, 420 Mimbres Courtroom (North Tower), 100 N. Church Street, Las Cruces, New Mexico 88001

WHO:

New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty attorneys,Court Appointed Special Master Lawrence M. Parker, HSD Secretary and Attorneys

The New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty report on it’s case review can be found here: http://nmpovertylaw.org/nmclp-report-on-hsd-case-review-2019-02-25-redacted/

The jointly developed corrective action plan can be found here: http://nmpovertylaw.org/hatten-gonzales-v-scrace-joint-motion-to-approve-two-corrective-action-plans-2019-07-10/

The power of community on #GivingTuesday

We invite you to join the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty on Tuesday, December 3 as we kick off this year’s giving season with #GivingTuesday—a global day of philanthropy that celebrates generosity and the power of community!

On December 3, our outstanding sponsors will be matching your gifts. Don’t miss this chance to double the impact of your donation! 

Please mark your calendars now to join the #GivingTuesday movement and make your contribution to the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty on December 3.

Follow our #GivingTuesday progress on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.

Yazzie plaintiffs call on state to develop transformative education plan

SANTA FE—New Mexico students still lack the basics necessary for a constitutionally sufficient education, charged the Yazzie plaintiffs of the landmark education lawsuit, Yazzie/Martinez v. State of New Mexico in a motion filed with the First Judicial District Court today. The motion asks the court to order the state to develop, implement, and fully fund a long-term plan that will meet the state’s constitutional mandate that guarantees all public school students the opportunity to be college and career ready.

“New Mexico has a historical opportunity, and a constitutional obligation, to transform our education system by building a multicultural educational framework and providing all students the opportunities they need to be ready for college or career,” said Gail Evans, lead counsel for the Yazzie plaintiffs in the lawsuit brought the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty. “It’s been almost a year and a half since the Yazzie/Martinez decision, but the state still lacks a concrete, long term plan that would put us on the right path for a constitutionally sufficient education, along with necessary funding. New Mexico’s students need action now. We are asking the court to order the state to take immediate action to comply with the court’s order.”   

In July 2018, Judge Sarah Singleton ruled that the state is violating public school students’ rights—especially low-income, students of color, English language learners, and students with disabilities—to a sufficient and uniform education. She ordered the state to take immediate action to overhaul the state’s education system.

The 2019 New Mexico Legislature did not do enough to comply with the Yazzie/Martinez decision. As a result, school districts were unable to provide the programming and supports for at risk students like bilingual education and social services. In fact, many districts were forced to cut basic programs like reading intervention and drop-out/truancy prevention, and cannot meet the demand for pre-K programs.

“Cuba Schools serves predominantly Native American students, but we still lack the funds to provide culturally relevant curriculum and language support,” said Dr. Karen Sanchez-Griego, superintendent of Cuba Independent School District, a plaintiff in the Yazzie lawsuit. “We also can’t provide adequate programming to our students with disabilities or transportation services to get students to and from tutoring, summer school, and after-school programs. We need to make real changes to our education system now to give all our children—and our state—an opportunity to succeed.”

The motion argues that 2019 education legislation did not comply with the court order by failing to:

  • Cover basic instructional materials and technology for classrooms;
  • Ensure teaching is tailored to the unique cultural and linguistic needs of our students, including English-language learners and indigenous communities;
  • Make pre-K, summer school, after-school programs, reading specialists, and smaller class sizes available to all children who need them;
  • Ensure social services, counseling, health care and literacy specialists are available to all students who need them;
  • Invest in our educators to attract and retain new teachers and expand their qualifications, especially for special education, science, and bilingual education; and
  • Adequately increase the transportation budget to ensure all students have the opportunity to participate in after-school and summer programs.

“We still have a substandard education system for our children. Our schools not only lack the basics, they lack the essential culturally relevant resources and materials, that our children need,” said Wilhelmina Yazzie, the lead plaintiff in the case who has a son in the Gallup McKinley County Schools. “This is not acceptable. All our children deserve an equal opportunity to succeed. My hope is that the state will act upon the court’s ruling and make our children a priority. We cannot waste any more time. Our children are the future of New Mexico, and they are sacred.”

The 2019 New Mexico State Legislature increased education funding, but school districts had to spend the bulk of the increase on a much needed raise for educators. Once districts allocated funds for the modest six percent raise, they did not have enough funding for basic educational necessities that would bring the state into compliance with the court’s ruling.

The Legislature increased funding for extended learning, through the K-5 Plus and the Extended Learning programs, but ignored multiple warnings that school districts would not be able to use much of the increase due to rigid requirements imposed by the state. Many districts did not apply for funding because they determined that the money available would not cover the actual cost of the programs; the program requirements were too strict and inflexible; and they did not have time to determine whether they could implement the programs.

“We need to do what’s right for our students, and we need sufficient funding and flexibility to do it,” said Dr. V. Sue Cleveland, superintendent of Rio Rancho Public Schools, a plaintiff in the Yazzie lawsuit. “We have had to cut important instructional positions such as reading interventionists and coaches, and we remain unable to provide sufficient professional development, instructional materials, transportation, and other programs and services our kids truly need.”

Since the court’s July 2018 decision, the Yazzie plaintiffs have worked with a broad group of educators, tribal members, community groups, and school districts to craft a platform of action necessary to transform New Mexico’s educational system to address the needs of at-risk children in compliance with the court order. Most of the programs and funding in the platform, supported by plaintiffs, were blocked by legislative leaders and died in committees.

Attorneys on the case include lead counsel Gail Evans, Daniel Yohalem, and Lauren Winkler and Preston Sanchez with the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty.

The motion can be found here: http://nmpovertylaw.org/motion-yazzie-plaintiffs-motion-for-compliance-2019-10-30/

Exhibits for the motion can be found here: http://nmpovertylaw.org/exhibits-yazzie-motion-for-compliance-2019-10-30/

The final ruling in Yazzie/Martinez v. State of New Mexico can be found here: http://nmpovertylaw.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/D-101-CV-2014-00793-Final-Judgment-and-Order-NCJ-1.pdf

New ICWA Court aims to keep Native families together

By Cheryl Fairbanks, Director of Native American Budget and Policy Institute

I am overjoyed to share with you that the Second Judicial District Children’s Court in Bernalillo County launched a new court to address historic challenges related to compliance with the Indian Child Welfare Act, which was enacted in 1978. Our community has always known, and research shows, that Native children do much better when they stay with their families, extended families, and in their community. That’s why Congress passed ICWA—to help keep Native families together.

This desperately needed court, announced appropriately on Indigenous People’s Day, is meant to uphold the rights of children, families, and tribal communities in a culturally responsive way. It will be reviewing foster care, pre-adoptive, and adoptive placement cases for Native children.  

The Native American Budget and Policy Institute was honored to contribute to the creation of the new court, which was a collaboration of New Mexico’s tribal and state entities. Pegasus Legal Services for Children, New Mexico Kids Matter, Tribal-State Judicial Consortium, New Mexico Tribal Indian Children Welfare Consortium, Corinne Wolfe Center for Child and Family Justice, and the New Mexico Children, Youth and Families Department were also members of the planning team.

Strong families and communities are embedded in indigenous culture. The stronger our community, the healthier are our families and our children. But unfortunately, unnecessary separation of Native families has continued. 

History has shown that Native American children are placed in foster care at a much higher rate than non Indians, ignoring the value of family unification and healing. Even now, social workers often remove children from their homes before exhausting all familial and tribal opportunities for placement. Native families are four times more likely to have their children removed and placed in foster care than their white counterparts. And although progress has been made, out-of-home placements with non-Native homes still occur. 

Structural racism and institutional bias has had a deep impact on how New Mexico’s courts and institutions treat Native families and children both currently and historically. Our communities have been living a continual crisis of cultural annihilation through family separation. 

When Congress passed ICWA, it acknowledged the historic and systemic government policies, like boarding schools, foster care, and adoptions, meant to assimilate Native people and terminate our culture. ICWA was created to protect children’s best interest as well as their cultural heritage. Knowing who they are as tribal citizens and connecting to their families and tribal communities is in the best interest for Native children. ICWA reaffirms the inherent rights of tribal nations to protect their children.

It’s time we upheld and honored that law. ICWA protections are still needed.

In a truly historic moment, the new court helps acknowledge the political status of tribal children and the sovereignty of tribes and Pueblos communities by working government to government with a primary focus on the child and family and preserving culture and communal ties.

The court is led by Honorable Marie Ward, Presiding Judge and Honorable David Eisenberg, Chief Judge of Taos Pueblo Tribal Court. Honorable Catherine Begaye, Special Master, will be the presiding officer over the court. Cases will begin to be heard by January 2020.

Peacemaking Dispute Resolution, which stresses reconciliation over adversarial court processes, will be a culturally responsive option in the court.

The new court will become the sixth ICWA Court in the United States, joining Billings, Montana; Denver and Adams Counties in Colorado; Los Angeles, California; and Duluth, Minnesota.

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. 

Medicaid Buy-in option already helping my family

Daisy Lira
This appeared in the Las Cruces Sun News on September 24, 2019.

I am a successful businesswoman, operating three child learning centers, and a Sunland Park City Councilor. I’m happily married, a devout Catholic and a mother of four. But until my husband started working for the City of El Paso a few weeks ago, I never had private health insurance. 

As a young, single mom, I had Medicaid. After I opened the centers and started making a small profit, they kicked us off. I thought that since I was finally making money I’d be OK. I was wrong. 

When it was absolutely necessary, I paid for doctor’s appointments out of pocket. Most of the time, I’d go to Juárez where a doctor’s visit was more affordable. Regular checkups for my kids were not an option. 

But there’s another option: Medicaid Buy-in. My fellow Sunland Park city councilors and I unanimously passed a resolution in support of it last year. The Legislature and Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham have been working to put it in place. It would allow families like mine to pay monthly premiums to buy-in to the trusted, affordable care that Medicaid has provided for more than 50 years. 

When I met my husband, we started looking for insurance. We wanted to have more children. Obamacare wasn’t affordable. I tried to offer healthcare to my employees and myself through my business. I told them how much the center could pay and how much they would have to pay for private group insurance, but no one could afford to be covered. We all went without. 

My husband and I were thrilled to have a son. We made too much to qualify for Medicaid and still couldn’t afford private insurance. I paid out-of-pocket for my son’s urgent care visits for recurring ear infections. It was horrible to see him in pain and to scrape together the money to help him. 

When I got pregnant again, I couldn’t find a gynecologist who would accept someone without insurance. I finally went for a checkup with a doctor in El Paso. I had no idea that within a week I would miscarry. I didn’t know what was happening. I went to an urgent care that sent me to another urgent care. They told me that my body would get rid of the pregnancy. I lost that pregnancy in pain, crying with my husband. 

When I got pregnant again a year later, I was determined to get the care I needed. To pay for prenatal care, I leveraged a piece of land we bought to build a house on. Thankfully, I had a healthy pregnancy and a healthy baby.

Now that my family has health insurance, I’ve been making all kinds of appointments for my kids. My daughter hasn’t been eating well and I take her to see a nutritionist. My son has two cysts in his stomach and I’m finally able to pay for his surgery. I even made a dentist appointment for myself. 

I’ve started speaking out about healthcare access. At 5 p.m. Wednesday, Sept.25, please join me for a screening of the film “The Providers” at the Doña Ana Community College Espina Campus, 3400 Espina St, Las Cruces, Rooms DASH 75 & 77. After the movie, there will be a discussion about healthcare in our communities. 

I’ve been waiting five years to build a home for my family on the land we bought, but doctor bills have kept that dream from happening. Maybe now that dream will come true. Maybe now, with the promise of Medicaid Buy-in families like mine won’t have to go without the care they need and deserve.

Daisy Lira is a Sunland Park city councilor.

ACTION ALERT: Tell the Trump administration not to cut SNAP

We have a shared commitment in our country that no one should ever go hungry, but a new rule proposed by the Trump administration would cause approximately 12,261 New Mexicans to lose food assistance. The rule is so draconian, it  would drop thousands of children from  free and reduced school lunch across the state. 

We need your help to let the Trump administration know that you oppose this attack on New Mexico’s families! Submit your public comment by Monday, September 23.

The rule cuts food assistance by eliminating state ability to increase the gross income test for SNAP. Currently, states have the flexibility to set this test between 130% and 200% of the federal poverty level. New Mexico currently sets the gross income limit at 165% of the federal poverty level. 

In New Mexico over 6,639 single parents, including 2,961 single parents in school and 5,607 children are among those who would lose food benefits. Children who receive SNAP food assistance are categorically eligible for free and reduced lunch and are automatically enrolled. Children cut off of SNAP would lose this enrollment option.. 

Cuts to federal food assistance also hurt our local economy. Over $30 million in economic activity will be lost if New Mexicans lose federal food benefits under this rule. 

The proposal would also end streamlined enrollment options that reduce paperwork for families who are already receiving services funded by New Mexico’s Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Program. Under the proposal, these families would no longer be exempt from the burdensome requirement to document assets.. 

New Mexicans have fought back against similar policies proposed by the Martinez administration, and made it clear that we should fight hunger not hungry people. 

Deadline to submit your public comments: September 23, 2019. 

Submit your comments here: https://www.regulations.gov/document?D=FNS-2018-0037-0001 

What to include in your comment: 

Use the outline below to draft a comment that reflects your opposition to the rule. It does not have to be long or detailed. However, please write some original text to maximize the impact. 

1. Say you oppose the proposal: 

  • I strongly oppose the proposed rule that will take food assistance away from families. 

2. Explain the impact of the proposal on your community: 

  • If the Trump Administration implements the rule, approximately 12,261 New Mexicans will lose food assistance that includes 5,607 children. 
  • One in five New Mexicans participate in the SNAP program. 
  • New Mexico has the highest rate of food insecurity in the nation. According to 2019 USDA Economic Research Service data, 16.8% of New Mexico’s households are food insecure. 
  • The rule jeopardizes access to free and reduced lunch, because kids who are eligible for SNAP are also eligible for automatic enrollment free and reduced school lunch. 
  • The rule will cause a loss of approximately $30 million in economic activity, and SNAP dollars are spent in the local economy. 

3. Explain why the policy is wrong: 

  • The proposal runs contrary to the purpose of SNAP, which is to “safeguard the health and well-being of the Nation’s population by raising levels of nutrition among low-income households.” 
  • Losing SNAP can mean an increase in healthcare costs. A study published by the American Medical Association found that on average SNAP participation lowers an individual’s health care expenditures by approximately $1,447.00 per year. 
  • Families who work for low wages, or who cannot find enough work hours, will be expected to go hungry.

New Mexico must take action on health care

Cecelia Fred
This appeared in the Gallup Independent on September 3, 2019.

“Always take care of each other.” That was my parents’ advice to me and my brothers and sisters before we lost them both to cancer. We took that to heart. We are in close touch to this day.

I know that of the nine of us, though, my parents were likely most worried about who would take care of me after they were gone. I’m a paraplegic, the result of an accident with a gun when I was a little girl.

When I lost my parents, I didn’t realize how hard it would become for me to access health care.

Back then, specialists from Craig Hospital, a rehabilitation hospital in Denver that helps people with spinal cord injuries, came to New Mexico to take care of me and others in the community. Those doctors taught me about my body and my injury. They helped me understand how to care for myself. They held a Spinal Clinic on the Navajo Nation to check our kidneys and bladder, and make sure we were in good health.

That’s all changed over the years.

The specialists don’t come anymore. At the Gallup Indian Medical Center, the doctors and nurses are not spinal cord specialists and don’t know how to take care of us. When I was in the hospital, I couldn’t even move the bed and I had to ring the bell all the time. The staff got frustrated with me.

I’m also under a new plan through Medicaid and I’m struggling to figure out how it works. I don’t know what services are covered. And Indian Health Services doesn’t provide the supplies I need anymore. I have to pay for my catheters out-of-pocket.

My own doctor doesn’t really know how to take care of me; I have to tell her. At least she listens. When I told one doctor that I was developing a bladder infection, he didn’t believe me. “How do you know that? You’re a paraplegic. You don’t have feeling in that part of your body.” I know how my body and I deserve to be taken seriously and cared for. Getting health care should not have to be a fight. I have two sons. Like my parents, I worry about who will take care of my children when I’m gone. I’m not worried that they won’t take care of each other; I’m worried that the health care system won’t take care of them.

With the changes in access that I’ve seen and with the high cost to just see a doctor, I worry that my sons will have to choose between buying food and getting the care they might need.

That’s why I’m fighting for change. Yes, I go up to the Fourth Floor at the hospital and complain when I can’t get services or supplies. But the fight is bigger than that. New Mexico needs a health care system that works for everyone.

Through my advocacy work with New Mexico Together for Healthcare, I am supporting the effort to bring health care to every New Mexican. A promising option – Medicaid Buy-in – received start-up funding during the last Legislative Session. I’m excited to see Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and the Legislature taking steps to improve health care access and to reduce costs. Medicaid Buy-in would simplify the health care system and lower costs by allowing people who make too much for Medicaid and who can’t afford private insurance to pay for the quality, trusted care Medicaid has provided for more than 50 years.

But, really, I don’t care what new program is put in place – Medicaid Buy-in, a public option. No matter what you call it or how the details shake out, New Mexico must take action. We need a health care system that guarantees everyone access to the care they need and deserve.

My mom and dad were right. We all need to take care of each other. But it’s not just families that need to stick together. All New Mexicans need to stand together to build a health care system that works for us all.

Join me Wednesday, Sept. 4 at 5:30 pm at the Gallup Bingo Hall and share your story at the McKinley Townhall on Health care and Disabilities. Alice Liu McCoy, Executive Director of the New Mexico Developmental Disabilities Planning Council, will attend and share updates on where the state is headed and take questions.

Let’s raise our voices, tell our stories and work together to fix our health care system.

Cecelia Fred lives in Red Rock. She is a local health care advocate and an ambassador for the Christopher Reeve Foundation.

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.