LAS CRUCES—A federal district judge ruled today that the New Mexico Human Services Department must continue to comply with a court order requiring it to fix systemic problems with processing Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and Medicaid applications.
Judge Kenneth John Gonzales wrote in his order, “New Mexicans, now more than ever, rely on the timely and accurate processing of SNAP and Medicaid applications to obtain much needed help.”
“This pandemic continues to ravage families’ health and their ability to work,” said Teague Gonzalez, director of Public Benefits at the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty, which is representing the plaintiffs in the case. “It’s crucial that HSD comply with the law and remove unnecessary barriers to food and healthcare assistance.”
The long-running Hatten-Gonzales lawsuit was originally filed in 1989. While some progress has been made, the court requires a case review to determine if HSD has 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.
In 2018, a case review found ongoing errors in the processing of food and medical assistance cases.
In its order, the court found HSD’s request to end the court’s oversight of fixes to the problems “premature” and “counterproductive” and “threatens to set back the progress the parties have made to this point.”
The judge ordered a case file review of Medicaid and SNAP applications to continue and that parties engage in good faith negotiations.
“We were surprised that the state’s counsel thought it appropriate to file this motion right now when so many New Mexicans have even more need for help,” said the Center’s Gonzalez. “We will continue our efforts to ensure New Mexicans can access food and healthcare assistance in close coordination with the court appointed Special Master and HSD.”
Judge Kenneth Gonzales’s order can be found here: http://nmpovertylaw.org/hatten-gonzales-v-scrase-order-staying-termination-of-consent-decree-2020-08-21/
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/
SANTA FE—The State of New Mexico, by its own admission, is not fulfilling its constitutional duty to provide a sufficient education to all students and should be required to develop a comprehensive plan to overhaul the public education system as soon as possible, charged the Yazzie plaintiffs in a brief filed today with the First Judicial District Court. The brief argues that it is critical the court continue to hold the state accountable to the 2018 landmark court ruling that found the state was violating students’ rights.
The brief was in response to the state’s motion, filed mid March, asking the court to dismiss the Yazzie/Martinez v. State of New Mexico lawsuit. The Yazzie case was brought on behalf of families and six school districts.
“In the best and worst of times, education is fundamental to our future. Now more than ever, with an uncertain economy and an upcoming special legislative session, we need the court to ensure the state is accountable to New Mexico’s students and families,” said Gail Evans, lead counsel for the Yazzie plaintiffs. “Almost two years have passed since the court ruling but very little has changed for students and families at the heart of the case–low-income families, students with disabilities, English language learners, and Native American students, who collectively make up roughly 80% of the New Mexico student population.”
“The state’s lack of action has been laid bare by the COVID-19 crisis, which has further aggravated the deep and ongoing educational inequities across New Mexico,” continued Evans. “Our public education system still lacks the basic infrastructure necessary to provide equitable access to technology and reliable internet, much less culturally and linguistically appropriate instructional materials. The state needs to act now to transform our schools. It’s failure to do so has caused irreparable harm to students and the future of our state.”
In addition to the lack of technology access and culturally relevant materials, the brief provides evidence that thousands of English language learners still lack certified teachers; extended learning and summer school still is not available for all students who need them; more than 25,000 three- and four-year-olds still don’t have access to quality Pre-K; and the state still fails to fund or implement the Bilingual Multicultural Education Act (1973), the Indian Education Act (2003), and the Hispanic Education Act (2010).
The state’s motion to dismiss the case argues that the court should trust the state government, legislators, and the governor to fix the school system. Yazzie plaintiffs argue that politics have failed our children and trusting the state to follow its own laws has not worked in the last several decades or in the last two legislative sessions after the landmark court ruling.
The Yazzie brief states, “Considering that the State has not fulfilled its duties before this Court intervened, it certainly cannot be left on its own to fulfill its duties now that the Court has found that the Constitutional rights are at stake. Rather than spending its time drafting long motions to dismiss for this Court, the State could have been developing a compliance plan for this Court.
There will be a hearing June 29 on the Yazzie plaintiffs’ and state’s motions.
The reply brief can be found here: http://nmpovertylaw.org/yazzie-plaintiffs-response-states-mtd-with-exhibits-a-j-2020-05-01/
The final ruling in the lawsuit can be found here: http://nmpovertylaw.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/D-101-CV-2014-00793-Final-Judgment-and-Order-NCJ-1.pdf
The Trump administration greenlights rule despite massive public opposition
ALBUQUERQUE—Widespread, devastating impact looms as the Trump administration sidesteps Congress with “Public Charge” changes. The expanded “Public Charge” rule allows the government to deny permanent residency (green cards) and visa renewals to lawfully present immigrants who participate in basic need programs like
“Immigrant communities contribute so much to the cultural, civic, and economic fabric of our state and nation,” said Fabiola Landeros, a community organizer with El CENTRO de Igualdad y Derechos. “Once again the Trump administration is targeting our communities, persecuting the most vulnerable based on their economic status, and trying to minimize our political power. No family should be forced to
“The expanded public charge rule is an attack on all immigrants, including children and seniors who, like any working American, may need to access supplemental benefits at any point such as subsidized housing or food stamps,” said Kay Bounkeua, Executive Director of the New Mexico Asian Family Center. “The Asian population has a high rate of family sponsorships and limited English proficiency—the expanded testing will result in keeping families apart and undermine the strengths and contributions of a racially diverse community.”
Congress made many lawfully present immigrants eligible for basic needs assistance to promote economic stability. Historically, administrations of both parties have only considered receipt of cash benefits and institutional care as reasons to deny lawfully present immigrants visa renewals or to deny their
“We have a shared responsibility to make sure no one in our community, especially children, go without basic needs,” said Teague Gonzalez, an attorney at the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty. “Immigrants contribute exponentially more to our tax system that supports basic benefit programs than they draw in direct assistance. Trump’s new rule furthers a cruel and racist agenda meant to separate families and spread fear. It will turn the U.S. immigration system into a pay-to-play game that unfairly favors the wealthiest households.”
“We envision a vibrant New Mexico where all people—regardless of immigration status—can achieve their full potential and are treated with dignity and respect,” said Eduardo García, an attorney with the New Mexico Immigrant Law Center. “This harsh change in policy targeting immigrants goes against our core values. It is a tactic to spread fear among immigrants, discourage immigration, and harm immigrants by preventing them from having access to public resources. Further, this policy change and the ugly rhetoric behind it continue to fuel hatred, xenophobia, and racism against immigrants. Nonetheless, we will fight back and NMILC will provide guidance to people that need it.”
“We are saddened by the Trump administration’s decision to force our country’s green card applicants to make an impossible choice between legally receiving public benefits and getting their green cards, both of which they need to succeed in our country,” said Tess Wilkes of the Santa Fe Dreamers Project. “The complexity of this rule change will discourage many eligible folks in the immigrant community from even
The proposed changes to public charge policy are already causing significant harm. Fear and confusion is creating a chilling effect, causing people to disenroll from programs and forgo benefits. The impact is far-reaching in New Mexico—nearly one in 10 New Mexicans is an immigrant, and one in nine have immigrant parents. Over 77,000 U.S. citizen children in New Mexico live with at least one immigrant parent and are in a family that receives basic food assistance. A Manatt Health analysis estimates that, across the country, as many as 26 million people and their families could be dissuaded from using public benefits under the proposed rule change.
“The American spirit is rooted in the welcoming of the stranger into our communities—it is in the belief that all coming to our communities should be cared for and that everyone has the opportunity to be given the resources necessary to climb out of poverty and contribute to the community,” said James Gannon, CEO of Catholic Charities. “Throughout the history of this nation, the foreign born welcomed into our community have contributed to and strengthened the fabric of our nation, and participated in our national defense and advanced our society. Penalizing through an expansion of public-charge testing of immigrants will only lead to self-injury to the American society and our nation.”
New Mexico stands to lose as many as 2,700 jobs and nearly $400 million in economic activity because eligible New Mexicans will forego federal benefits that flow directly into the state’s economy. Immigrant-led households in New Mexico paid $756.9 million in federal taxes and $394.3 million in state and local taxes in 2014.
“The vast majority of children in New Mexico–97%–are U.S.-born citizens. But that shouldn’t matter. Every child living in New Mexico, regardless of where they or their parents were born, deserves the healthcare, food assistance, and other benefits they’re eligible for and need in order to thrive,” said James Jimenez, executive director of New Mexico Voices for Children. “As with the family separations–which are still going on–this is an unconscionable and racist immigration policy that will have very negative, life-long consequences for children.”
“Punishing people for accepting help with food, housing, and medical care that they are eligible for, and have contributed tax dollars to, will have devastating and widespread effects on New Mexico’s communities,” added Gonzalez. “The expanded rule will push people further into poverty, separate families, and lead to overall worse health outcomes and higher rates of food insecurity in our state. We are already hearing from families who are afraid to seek help for their children.”
For more information please see the following handouts in English and Spanish. People concerned about their benefits or immigration status should speak to an immigration attorney about the best route for families to take.
Nondiscrimination protections under the ACA are at risk
ALBUQUERQUE—In a move that will especially harm trans people, the LGBTQ+ community, patients who speak languages other than English, and people who need access to abortion services, the Trump administration proposed rolling back enforcement of nondiscrimination protections under the Affordable Care Act. New Mexico advocates who champion access to healthcare urge New Mexicans to publicly oppose Trump’s latest threat to healthcare accessibility.
The ACA’s landmark nondiscrimination provision, known as Section 1557 or the Health Care Rights Law, protects patients from discrimination based on race, color, national origin, sex, age, and disability. Comments on proposed changes to Section 1557 must be submitted with the Federal Register by August 13, 2019.
“Discrimination has no place in health care,” said William Townley, New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty Healthcare Attorney. “Rolling back Section 1557 would allow discrimination and stereotyping to override patient care. This will endanger the health and lives of many New Mexicans and create needless confusion for providers and patients alike. We encourage individuals and groups to submit public comments with the Federal Register voicing opposition to the rollback of these important legal protections.”
“A patient’s health and wellbeing should always come first,” said Adrian N. Carver, Equality New Mexico Executive Director. “Giving healthcare professionals a license to discriminate against queer and transgender people is unacceptable. Rules that allow providers to ignore standard medical best practices and instead put their personal beliefs before patient health has the potential to gravely harm thousands of people and their families’ health. Our community must submit comment on these rules because, if enacted, these regulations threaten to completely upend the careful balance of religious freedom and other important human rights and instead grant providers a license to put their personal views before the healthcare needs of the patient.”
The Trump administration is proposing rules that would reinterpret Section 1557 by
- exempting a broad number of healthcare programs and entities from having to comply with Section 1557’s nondiscrimination provisions;
- eliminating nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ+ persons from regulations;
- ending provisions that ensure people who speak languages other than English receive critical notices in the language they speak;
- removing protections against health plan designs that discriminate against people with serious or chronic health conditions.
“In addition to erasing the gender identity of individuals who identify outside of the binary choices of male or female, the proposed rule would gravely harm access to healthcare. The rule would let hospitals and clinics refuse to provide abortions based on religious or conscience concerns, even when there are no other providers in the area that could provide care,” said Terrelene Massey, Southwest Women’s Law Center Executive Director. “In a state such as New Mexico, which is largely rural, people do not always have a choice for where to go. In Santa Fe County, for example, the main provider of healthcare services is Catholic affiliated. Finding a medical provider without religious or conscience concerns would require a person to travel great distances and likely pay additional costs for using a provider out of their insurance network. The proposed Section 1557 changes could result in great bodily harm or even death to some, simply because of where they happen to live.”
Individuals can submit comments on proposed changes to Section 1557 at: https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2019/06/14/2019-11512/nondiscrimination-in-health-and-health-education-programs-or-activities
Department increased eligibility levels after families sued last year
SANTA FE—Working families will have increased access to much needed child care assistance as a result of a court order approving an agreement between working families and the New Mexico Children, Youth and Families Department. The order, entered by the First Judicial District Court in Santa Fe yesterday, mandates that CYFD will follow the law in managing New Mexico’s Childcare Assistance Program.
“Every family deserves access to quality child care while parents are at work or in school,” said Maria Griego, supervising attorney at the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty. “Only a third of eligible families in New Mexico currently access child care assistance because the application process and eligibility requirements are inconsistent and confusing. The settlement is a critical opportunity for CYFD to improve the well-being of children. We look forward to working with this administration to fix long standing barriers.”
Several families and OLÉ, represented by the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty, sued the department in September 2018, charging that CYFD illegally established a policy of denying child care assistance to families with incomes over 150% of the federal poverty level—a yearly income of $31,170 for a family of three—without publishing a regulation or going through the required public comment and hearing process. The lawsuit also argued that CYFD illegally failed to provide adequate notice to families about their child care benefits or establish a regulation that explains how CYFD determines the share of costs the family has to pay.
After the lawsuit, CYFD immediately increased eligibility for child care assistance to families with incomes up to 200% of the federal poverty level.
The court order requires CYFD to:
- Maintain the current eligibility level until or unless CYFD lawfully passes regulations with public comment with a different eligibility level;
- Put into regulation child care assistance eligibility requirements, including how CYFD calculates the amount of costs shared by parents;
- Revise notices and forms that families receive or fill out in the application process;
- Revise the manual CYFD workers use to determine eligibility for assistance;
- Post eligibility information and application rights in all CYFD offices.
“We know that the earliest years in children’s lives are the most important in their development and lay the foundation for all that is to come,” said Traeshaun Buffin a community organizer at OLÉ. “The astronomical costs of child care prevent tens of thousands of New Mexican families with children from accessing meaningful work and educational opportunities. We’re so pleased that CYFD has agreed to stop denying eligible families the child care assistance they need and to adopt standards with public input to make the program affordable and predictable.”
The court order can be found here: http://nmpovertylaw.org/9-order-torres_2019_05_06/
The Torres v. Jacobson complaint can be found here: http://nmpovertylaw.org/torres-v-jacobson-first-amended-complaint-with-exhibits/
HB 111 will support teachers with training to better serve culturally and linguistically diverse students, particularly in rural New Mexico
SANTA FE—Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham signed Representative Salazar’s HB 111, Cultural and Linguistic Education Support, funding Regional Education Cooperatives (RECs) to provide professional development to staff and teachers for culturally and linguistically responsive instruction.
“New Mexico is not like other states. Our diversity is our strength and it presents unique opportunities for how we leverage our multicultural and multilingual heritage to improve learning outcomes for students, regardless of their zip code,” said Rebecca Blum Martinez, professor and bilingual/ESL director, Department of Language, Literacy, & Sociocultural Studies, University of New Mexico’s College of Education. “Our education system has long been inequitable and unresponsive to the cultural and linguistic needs of our students, which research shows is critical to enabling students to learn and do well in school.”
HB 111 builds the capacity for Regional Education Cooperatives (RECs) to provide professional development for educators on culturally and linguistically responsive instruction. The bill provides funding for RECs to contract with local experts to offer strategies and techniques to most effectively teach culturally and linguistically diverse learners.
“Diverse students and their teachers across rural New Mexico face distinct challenges, only further compounded by the lack of training opportunities in multilingual and multicultural education,” said Edward Tabet-Cubero with Transform Education NM. “HB 111 creates a pathway for RECs to better serve students and improve outcomes.”
HB 111 is one key component of the Transform Education NM coalition platform to improve education outcomes for all New Mexico students. The platform is grounded in a multicultural, multilingual framework to reverse years of inadequate state investment in public education and close achievement gaps for New Mexico’s students, especially low-income, Native American, English-language learners, and students with disabilities.
The bill’s primary sponsor was Representative Tomas Salazar and co-sponsors were Representative Linda Trujillo and Representative Derrick Lente.
Information on the Transform Education NM platform can be found here: https://transformeducationnm.org/our-platform/.
Transform Education NM is a coalition of educational leaders, families, tribal leaders, and the lawsuit plaintiffs working to transform the state’s education system for our students. To learn more, visit www.transformeducationnm.org.
SANTA FE—Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham signed a bill today cleaning up state law that regulates storefront lenders. House Bill 150, Installment & Small Loan Changes, sponsored by Representative Georgene Louis, protects New Mexico borrowers by ensuring accountability and transparency in the storefront lending industry.
“Today we’ve made great progress toward fairness and transparency for New Mexican borrowers,” said Lindsay Cutler, attorney at the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty. “HB 150 cleans up loopholes in state law by requiring lenders to report relevant data to the state and aligns our small loan laws so all New Mexico families can receive fairer loans.”
New Mexico’s first across-the-board interest rate cap went into effect in January 2018, capping interest rates on storefront loans at 175 percent APR. However, high fees and loan rollovers continue to drain income from New Mexico borrowers. The two laws that regulate storefront lenders, the Small Loan and Bank Installment Loan Acts, still contain inconsistent fee and disclosure provisions, do not require sufficient reporting to the state’s Financial Institutions Division to enforce consumer protections, and do not make clear borrowers’ rights on loan renewals.
Starting January 1, 2020, HB 150 will:
- Require lenders to provide relevant data on small loans, enabling the FID to verify storefront lenders are adhering to small loans law and for the state to evaluate how the law is impacting New Mexicans;
- Allow borrowers 24 hours to rescind a high-interest loan;
- Align fee provisions and disclosure requirements in the Small Loan and Bank Installment Loan Acts so consumer protections are consistent for all borrowers;
- Protect New Mexican borrowers from potential loopholes when they renew or rollover loans by clarifying the definition of new loans; and
- Align the penalties for violating the small loan laws and the language around the Unfair Practices Act to ensure that companies are held accountable for unfair, deceptive and unconscionable practices.
“The small loan industry makes hundreds of millions of dollars from hardworking New Mexico families,” said Cutler. “HB 150 goes a long way to make sure our small loan law is clear of ambiguities and provides meaningful consumer protections that hold small loan companies accountable. Small loan reform is absolutely necessary if we hope to stop predatory lending practices.”
SANTA FE— Today, the New Mexico Senate passed SB 85, sponsored by Sen. Liz Stefanics and Rep. Christine Trujillo, which would ensure home care and domestic workers—the people who clean homes and deliver care for others—are protected by New Mexico’s minimum wage standards and other wage protections.
Historically, domestic workers have been left out of many labor protections and have little recourse when not paid. SB 85, Domestic Service in Minimum Wage Act, removes exemptions for domestic workers from New Mexico’s wage laws—as has already been done at the federal level.
“Everyone deserves to be paid a fair wage for their work,” said Stephanie Welch, supervising attorney at the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty. “SB 85 would eliminate archaic and discriminatory treatment in New Mexico’s labor protections so people who work hard in other people’s homes and as caregivers are treated fairly and can seek recourse when they are not.”
New Mexico law generally requires employers to pay employees minimum wage and overtime, keep records, and pay employees in full and on time. However, like other wage laws enacted in the 1930s, it excluded large categories of work typically performed by women and people of color from the minimum wage and other protections.
“Domestic workers deserve the same protections as other workers” said Adrienne R. Smith of New Mexico Caregivers Coalition. “Cleaning houses and taking care of people demands dedication, time, and experience. It’s time we changed how we value this work and the people who perform it.”
Federal law has since eliminated its exclusion of domestic workers, but without state protections, New Mexicans who work in people’s homes are not protected and may be subject to low or no pay and exploitative situations. If domestic workers were covered by New Mexico’s wage laws, the N.M. Department of Workforce Solutions would investigate their complaints, enforce their rights, and recover their wages and damages.
The bill will now be assigned to a committee in the House of Representatives for consideration.
Legislature’s proposed funding will not meet court’s mandate for transformation of education system
ALBUQUERQUE—Late Thursday, First Judicial District Court Judge Sarah Singleton issued a final ruling in Yazzie/Martinez v. State of New Mexico. The court found that the state has violated students’ constitutional rights to a sufficient education and ordered the state to provide educational programs, services, and funding to schools to prepare students so they are college and career ready.
The current proposed funding for education under discussion in the New Mexico Legislature will not suffice to meet the court’s mandate.
Current New Mexico Legislature education funding proposals are asking for an increase of $400 to $500 million—which amounts to a 15-18 percent increase in public school funding. Evidence at trial showed that public schools are receiving less funding now than in 2008, when adjusting for inflation. That data has since been updated to show that an increase of $409 million would only return New Mexico to 2008 education funding levels. In 2008, New Mexico was ranked at the bottom in the country in reading and math proficiency and was clearly not in compliance with New Mexico’s constitutional requirement. Reverting funding back to 2008 resources levels does not meet the court’s mandates to sufficiently fund programs and services for our children
“New Mexico’s students are legally entitled to the educational opportunities they need to succeed. This final judgement is yet another clear statement from the court that the state has a legal mandate to take immediate action to ensure that our students are getting the quality of education that they are constitutionally entitled to,” said Gail Evans, lead attorney for Yazzie plaintiffs in the Yazzie/Martinez v. State of New Mexico lawsuit. “To comply with the constitution, we must have a transformation of our educational system—nothing less is going to cut it. The system has failed our students for decades and that must stop now.”
The court made clear that students’ constitutional rights to a sufficient education cannot be violated so that the state can save funds. The court’s final judgement states, “The defendants must comply with their duty to provide an adequate education and may not conserve financial resources at the expense of our constitutional resources.”
The legislature’s current budget under consideration does not fully implement a multicultural and bilingual curriculum, does not adequately increase teacher pay and professional development to recruit and retain teachers, and does not ensure children have access to instructional materials, technology and transportation, and other basic services that are critical for educational success.
“Families and school districts have been struggling to work with the resources that they have,” said Tom Sullivan, former superintendent of Moriarty-Edgewood School District, which is a plaintiff in the Yazzie/Martinez lawsuit. “Most states’ education budgets have recovered from and surpassed pre-recession amounts, but in New Mexico, the current budget proposal is barely returning to 2008 levels when education was already underfunded.”
“We have an incredible opportunity to do the right thing for our students, our future,” said Mike Grossman, superintendent of Lake Arthur Municipal Schools, one of the smallest districts in New Mexico and a Yazzie plaintiff. “Governor Lujan-Grisham and new Public Education Department have expressed a strong commitment to our students and to public education. It is critical that they now step in and drive the major educational reforms and the big investments it will take to fix our schools.”
The court’s final judgement and order can be found here: http://nmpovertylaw.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/D-101-CV-2014-00793-Final-Judgment-and-Order-NCJ-1.pdf
Advocacy efforts conclude in a victory for families
SANTA FE—Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham reversed serious cuts to New Mexico’s Medicaid program yesterday following two years of advocacy efforts by the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty, community organizations, and healthcare providers. Under the Susana Martinez administration, New Mexico’s Human Services Department had proposed major cuts to healthcare services as part of the Centennial Care 2.0 waiver, many of which were approved by the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services in December 2018.
The New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty led the efforts to fight the cuts that would have implemented premiums for some Medicaid patients, cut retroactive coverage, and instituted mandatory co-pays.
“We owe a huge thanks to Governor Lujan Grisham for reversing these harmful measures and to the advocates and families who fought tirelessly over the last two years for the health and wellbeing of all New Mexicans,” said Abuko D. Estrada, supervising attorney at the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty. “Piece by piece, we’ve successfully fought the cuts in the Centennial Care 2.0 waiver that would have led to thousands of families losing healthcare coverage and shifted an unfair burden of costs to healthcare providers and the healthcare system.”
The governor’s rejection of the waiver is the latest in a series of positive actions the new administration has taken to improve the health and wellbeing of New Mexicans. Since taking office, Lujan-Grisham has set forth plans to reach uninsured New Mexicans who are eligible for Medicaid but not enrolled and help them apply. The governor has also been publicly supportive of bills, currently working their way through the legislature, that would open up a Medicaid Buy-in option for New Mexicans who do not otherwise have access to affordable healthcare coverage.