Samantha Sanchez, 10, reads for 20 minutes in Sharon Scarlott’s class at Gonzales Community School in Santa Fe on Dec. 20, 2013. The Martinez administration had proposed $13.5 million for remediation and intervention for students struggling to read in kindergarten through third grade. The easiest number to understand in the just-released 2019 Annie E. Casey Kid’s Count report is that New Mexico ranks 50th overall in child well-being. That’s a stark ranking, the second year in a row New Mexico earned that distinction.
When NM In Depth reported on a settlement earlier this month in a lawsuit against the Children Youth and Families Department over its policies on child care assistance, a big money question was left hanging. CYFD agreed to temporarily bump initial eligibility for child care subsidies to families earning up to 200% of the federal poverty level, from 150%, but the department would need supplementary funding if it was going to keep it at that level. Part of the settlement with OLÉ and the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty also said the department needed to come up with new eligibility rules within 90 days, and give the public a chance to weigh in. This week the department posted those proposed changes — taking eligibility to apply for assistance to just 160% of the federal poverty level. Those who already have the benefit would continue to keep it until they reach 200% of FPL.
U.S. District Judge Kenneth Gonzales laid out the stakes in a long-simmering lawsuit over the Human Services Department’s record of denying food stamp and Medicaid benefits to eligible New Mexicans during a status hearing Thursday at the federal courthouse in Las Cruces. U.S. District Judge Kenneth Gonzales
He’d visited the HSD office on Utah Street in Las Cruces where he had looked over cases with a front-line worker there. One client was a single mom with two kids under 6. She’d lost SNAP benefits because she had not submitted documents that apparently were already in the system. Then her family lost Medicaid benefits, even though they weren’t up for renewal, because of the decision on food stamps — something that violates federal rules.
Last week the Children Youth and Families Department settled a lawsuit over who qualifies for child-care support and how it sets the out-of-pocket cost for low-income families. For now, all families with incomes under 200% of the federal poverty level ($51,500 for a family of four) can apply for subsidies that make child care more affordable while parents work or go to school. And it forces CYFD to post rules on their website and in all Early Childhood offices that help parents understand if they are eligible, what their co-pays might be and their right to appeal. But some questions remain unanswered — like whether the state will keep the eligibility level at 200% and whether current funding will cover the need. The Legislature boosted child-care assistance by about 7% during the 2019 legislative session.
New Mexico In Depth Executive Director Trip Jennings has received the Spirit of Journalistic Excellence award from the nonpartisan, statewide public-policy organization New Mexico First, an organization known for convening town halls around the state to build consensus on pressing public issues. “New Mexico First is proud to recognize lawmakers, journalists and community leaders who put the people of New Mexico first and work to find good solutions to the challenges we face,” said former state senator Cynthia Nava, selection committee chair, in a news release. “This award shines the spotlight on hard-working role models who put good policy or fair coverage above partisan politics.”
“I’m humbled by the award,” Jennings said, “which is both an honor and a reminder of the necessity of journalism that is both vigorous and thoughtful, and that grounds public debates in people’s lives and the communities they live in rather than the fickle winds of partisan politics.”
Trip started his career in Georgia at his hometown newspaper, The Augusta Chronicle. Since then he’s worked at newspapers in California, Florida and Connecticut. Trip moved to New Mexico in 2005 and has worked for the Albuquerque Journal, The New Mexico Independent and the Santa Fe New Mexican covering everything from political corruption and how political decisions are made to the challenges confronted by those without political power when they seek change.
There was something poetic about Lynn Community Middle School’s dental clinic opening on Wednesday. That day the school hosted its monthly food pantry for neighborhood families. And it was the same day Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed into law House Bill 589, which sets up an initiative to take the community school model statewide. Every Wednesday, students at Lynn Middle School will be able to get preventive dental care right down the hall from their classrooms. The clinic is staffed by dental hygiene students from Doña Ana Community College. Those are just the kinds of things community schools are meant to do — bring social services to students so they can concentrate on learning, and become a resource for the surrounding community.
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham will sign a bill reforming the way solitary confinement is used in the state’s jails and prisons and another that restricts when private employers can ask job seekers about their past criminal records, her spokesman told New Mexico In Depth on Tuesday. The first-term, Democratic governor is still reviewing — in a few cases, with some consternation — a handful of other criminal justice reforms lawmakers passed during the recently concluded 60-day legislative session, said Tripp Stelnicki, Lujan Grisham’s communications director. Solitary confinement has been a heated issue in New Mexico for years, bringing multi-million-dollar lawsuit settlements and allegations of human rights abuses against inmates in the state. Four Democrats sponsored House Bill 364, defining solitary confinement as holding someone in a cell alone for 22 or more hours a day “without daily, meaningful and sustained human interaction.” Lujan Grisham’s signature will limit the instances in which state and county jailers use solitary on juveniles, people living with mental illness and pregnant women. The new law also will bring some transparency to the use of solitary.
Las Cruces City Councilor Kasandra Gandara is bringing together behavioral health, education, community organizing, child wellbeing and health groups in an effort to gather data on Adverse Childhood Experiences and use that information to combat childhood trauma. Tackling childhood trauma in a data-driven, community-based fashion went from an idea to an institute within the space of a year. Las Cruces City Councilor Kasandra Gandara knew from her years as a social worker at the Children Youth and Families Department that even front line workers in child protective services, faced with the hardest cases of abuse and neglect, were not aware of or trained in the theory of Adverse Childhood Experiences and the lifelong effects they have on health and learning. So when she read the book, “Anna, Age Eight: The Data-driven Prevention of Childhood Trauma and Maltreatment,” written by Katherine Ortega Courtney and Dominic Cappello, from research done at CYFD, she embarked on a mission to use data to prevent the heart-breaking instances of abuse she witnessed first-hand in Las Cruces and Dona Ana County. That project has grown swiftly.
A set of reforms to the state’s probation and parole systems is headed to the governor’s desk, with subtle changes to how the Parole Board considers requests for freedom by people sentenced to 30-years-to life in prison. House Bill 564 passed the Senate Tuesday after tweaks from that chamber’s Judiciary Committee, then cleared the House on a concurrence vote Wednesday. Current state law forces inmates sentenced to 30-years-to life in prison to show why they should be set free. The bill appears to shift the onus between the inmate and the state. In its original form the bill would have shifted that burden entirely to the state, mandating those inmates be paroled unless the board “makes a finding that the inmate is unable or unwilling to fulfill the obligations of a law-abiding citizen.”
The bill heading to the governor now says before paroling an inmate, the board would have to interview the inmate and “consider all pertinent information concerning the inmate.”
Another change to current law would eliminate the requirement that the board consider the “circumstances of the offense.” The revised bill requires the board to detail a finding that release is in the “best interest of society and the inmate,” conclude that the inmate is “willing to fulfill the obligations of a law-abiding citizen” and provide in writing specific support for its decision to grant or deny parole to the inmate.
Despite another year in which New Mexico led the nation for fatal police shootings by population, how best to ensure public trust when those cases are reviewed for possible wrongdoing remains a vexing question. And with less than 48 hours left in this year’s 60-day legislative session, another year likely will pass without a fix from lawmakers. At a time when New Mexico is swimming in cash, neither lawmakers nor the state’s 14 district attorneys have appeared to push for the additional money it would take to create a uniform, statewide review system. “This session, there really hasn’t been anything that would address this,” Rick Tedrow, Eleventh Judicial district attorney and immediate past president of the New Mexico District Attorneys Association, told New Mexico In Depth. “In terms of funding for extra prosecutors to focus on these cases, it really should be the DAs asking for that.