Realizing that there is still much work to be done, we celebrate the impact our efforts have had on the lives of low-income New Mexicans across our state. Below are snapshots of our major efforts and accomplishments in our first 20 years:
Advancing a new vision for New Mexico’s public schools. On behalf of families and school districts, the Center wins a historic court ruling that sets the stage for wholesale transformation of our public education system from pre-kindergarten through grade 12. In July 2018, the First Judicial District Court declares that New Mexico is violating the state constitution by failing to provide a sufficient education to Native American, English language learner, and low-income students. Then, with a broad coalition of parents, educators, tribal leaders, local experts, and advocates, we develop a comprehensive policy platform to transform our schools.
Protecting access to Medicaid. Center attorneys and our community partners successfully fight off drastic cuts and harmful policy changes, including premiums, co-pays, and phasing out retroactive coverage, that would have reduced Medicaid access and utilization. We also work with our partners to launch the NM Together for Healthcare coalition—a multi-racial, multi-lingual, and geographically diverse coalition of family leaders who are collaborating around community-driven healthcare advocacy.
Removing barriers to driver’s licenses and identification cards. The Center and Somos Un Pueblo Unido successfully represent community groups in litigation to stop unlawful state regulations that were preventing senior citizens, immigrants, and people experiencing homelessness from obtaining driver’s licenses or ID cards. This identification is necessary to go to work or school, obtain housing, or seek medical care.
Forging a new model of collaboration for racial equity. With the Leadership Institute and the UNM Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Center for Health Policy, we co-launch the innovative Native American Budget and Policy Institute and provide support with strategic planning, legal research, and advocacy. The Institute’s goal is to leverage the power of New Mexico’s indigenous communities to create self-determined and systematic change to improve the health, education, and economic well-being of Native Americans around our state and nationwide.
Holding the state accountable for providing a sufficient education for New Mexico’s children. Through a successful eight-week trial, Center attorneys demonstrate that the State of New Mexico and the New Mexico Public Education Department has failed to provide a constitutionally sufficient educational system, especially for low-income children and students of color.
Guaranteeing hardworking New Mexicans receive their wages. By representing workers and workers’ rights organizations in a successful class action settlement, the Center ensures that the Department of Workforce Solutions will carry out its duty to enforce New Mexico’s strong anti-wage theft laws and hold employers accountable when they violate these laws.
Increasing enrollment in Child Care Assistance. The Center helps the Children, Youth and Families Department to resolve critical problems with its administration of the Child Care Assistance program, leading to a 19% increase in enrollment between July 2016 and December 2017.
Defending Albuquerque’s minimum wage law. Center attorneys defeat two unexpected legal challenges to the Albuquerque minimum wage ordinance, which was approved by voters in 2012. Our successful defense of the ordinance protects increased wages for over 40,000 minimum wage workers and preserves the right of voters to enact direct legislation.
Ensuring farm laborers are treated the same as all other workers in our state. After almost a decade of litigation, the Center wins a final decision from the New Mexico Supreme Court that it is unconstitutional to exclude agricultural laborers from workers’ compensation. This ruling means that, at last, the roughly 15,000 individuals who labor on New Mexico’s farms, ranches, and dairies can access critical financial and healthcare protections through the workers’ compensation system.
Uncovering illegal practices in the provision of food assistance. The Center brings forward several state employees to testify about a Department-wide practice of altering SNAP applications to disqualify the poorest clients from receiving emergency food benefits. Their testimony garners significant media attention and sparks an internal investigation into the entrenched administrative problems at the agency.
Pushing for greater accountability at the NM Human Services Department. Center attorneys petition a federal court to appoint an independent monitor to repair the deep and pervasive problems in the NM Human Services Department’s processing of public benefits cases. In response, the Judge recommends that the Court appoint and supervise a Special Master to ensure that the Department can “effectively, efficiently, and properly” provide Medicaid and food assistance to eligible New Mexicans.
Protecting Medicaid coverage. The Center leads a successful campaign to raise awareness of the importance of Medicaid, which provides healthcare coverage to over 40% of New Mexicans and supports over 50,000 jobs. The Center’s advocacy helps prevent the state from adopting certain proposed Medicaid cuts that would have reduced enrollment and access to care. It also helps hold the program harmless from budget cuts that impacted almost every other state agency during a special legislative session.
Protecting hard-working farm and ranch laborers. Following oral arguments by the Center and opposing counsel, the New Mexico Court of Appeals issues a decision stating that excluding farm and ranch workers from the Workers’ Compensation Act violates the equal protection clause of the state constitution. The NM Workers’ Compensation Administration then states for the first time that it will enforce the decision.
Making it easier for 1 million applicants and recipients to access food and healthcare assistance. The Center wins a court order to have the NM Human Services Department modify its notices to clients to make them more individualized, accurate, and easy-to-read, in accordance with the law. We then worked closely with the agency to rewrite hundreds of notices.
Promoting Medicaid access for individuals recently released from incarceration. The Center provided advocacy and expert testimony to pass a law that allows individuals who are incarcerated to maintain Medicaid coverage in inactive status and to apply for coverage prior to release. This change allows people to have immediate access to healthcare services upon re-entering the community, an approach that is proven to reduce recidivism, lower costs, and increase public safety.
Building the capacity of New Mexico’s system of civil legal aid. We again coordinate advocacy efforts to increase the state appropriation for New Mexico’s civil legal services system. Since 2007, the Center has consistently led the civil legal services community to win more than $16 million in appropriations to the Civil Legal Services Fund.
Fighting to increase opportunities for public school students. With the backing of school districts, students, and their parents, the Center files a lawsuit in state District Court asserting that our state government has failed in its constitutional obligation to provide a sufficient education for all children. This case aims to change the way New Mexico schools are funded, helping the schools and students most in need.
Ensuring that workers are paid for their labor. In response to the Center’s advocacy and education, the NM Department of Labor finally agrees that agricultural workers are entitled to receive the state minimum wage. This is an important first step towards improving economic security for these extremely poor employees.
Expanding access to Medicaid for more than 220,000 people. After leading stakeholders in a broad, creative, and extensive statewide campaign for over six months, we convince New Mexico’s Governor to adopt the expansion of Medicaid to low-income adults–an option made available through federal healthcare reform.
Defending healthcare access for Native American communities. Joint advocacy by the Center and the Native community results in the federal government prohibiting New Mexico from forcing Native American Medicaid clients to enroll in managed care. New Mexico’s tribes and pueblos were unanimously opposed to this requirement because managed care organizations have a poor track record of serving Native American patients, and because this change would have seriously undermined Indian healthcare facilities.
Ensuring 77,000 of the hungriest New Mexicans each year will receive critical food benefits when they need them most. We educate the Human Services Department of its legal obligation to deliver emergency food benefits on time, convincing the state to streamline how it processes emergency appeals and begin issuing “over-the-counter” benefits to needy clients.
Preventing fees and cuts to services in Medicaid. We sustained an advocacy campaign to oppose Medicaid fees on participants and any cuts to services when the Human Services Department redesigned Medicaid through its “Centennial Care” waiver, and to ask for transparency in the waiver submission process. The department announced that it would not be imposing new premiums and would greatly limit co-pays on Medicaid. It also withdrew its waiver application to seek further public input.
Winning the first fight to expand Workers’ Compensation. The Center wins its lawsuit challenging the exclusion of agricultural laborers from the NM Workers’ Compensation Act in New Mexico District Court. The Court rules that the statutory exclusion of farm and dairy laborers from the Act violates the state constitution.
Defending the Medicaid budget. The Center works with other advocates, including the Medicaid Coalition and healthcare provider groups, to wage a persistent, extensive information and advocacy campaign to raise public and policymaker awareness of the importance of Medicaid to the health of low-income New Mexicans and our state’s economy. Due to the efforts of the Center and others, the Medicaid budget was essentially held harmless from cuts that affected nearly every state program during a deep economic recession.
Ensuring babies, children, and pregnant women have healthcare. We support the NM Human Services Department to remove the five-year waiting period for lawfully residing children and pregnant women to apply for Medicaid. We also monitor the Department to ensure that it adopts “continuous Medicaid eligibility” for kids, which automatically enrolls children for 12 months of Medicaid, stabilizing their healthcare access.
Using the law to provide water to people living in deep poverty. The Center provides legal assistance to people living in a local colonia for negotiations to establish the first water filling station in their community. Colonias are communities in border states with high poverty rates that often lack basic infrastructure such as water and sewage systems.
Reforming Medicaid to properly serve New Mexican families. The Center concludes a successful three-year, multi-faceted campaign to have the state correct problems with the Medicaid renewal process that had been improperly throwing roughly 10,000 people, mostly children, off the Medicaid program every month. After the state adopts changes that the Center and our allies had sought for years, Medicaid enrollment increases by 40,000 within the first three months.
Ensuring non-English speakers can access needed medical care. The Center negotiates a favorable settlement in a lawsuit filed against the University of New Mexico Hospital regarding the Hospital’s failure to provide an adequate language interpretation delivery system, in violation of federal and state laws. This settlement agreement stipulates the steps that UNM Hospital will take to reduce language barriers at the hospital, resulting in substantial improvements in services.
Equipping the next generation of legal service attorneys. We shepherd the passage of a law that establishes the Loan Repayment Assistance Program (LRAP) for public service attorneys, a program intended to help lawyers pay off law school loans while working lower-paying public interest jobs.
Defending quality healthcare services for low-income people with disabilities. The Center leads advocacy efforts to have the Human Services Department rescind illegally-implemented reductions in the Medicaid personal care option program, which funds community-based services for low-income people with significant disabilities.
Providing a safety net for poor families. The Center files and wins Taylor v. Johnson, which requires Governor Gary Johnson to stop implementing an unconstitutional version of welfare reform put into place by circumventing the legislature. This victory sets the stage for the legislature to develop New Mexico’s cash assistance program.