Up to 37,000 New Mexicans will lose food aid under stricter mandates approved Wednesday by the Trump administration, the governor’s office reported. Nearly 700,000 people will be affected across the U.S.
Currently, New Mexico waives work requirements statewide for able-bodied adults without children, but under the finalized rule change it will have less flexibility to do so going forward. Without that waiver, adults ages 18 to 49 can not receive SNAP benefits for more than three months in a three year period unless they work at least 20 hours a week or participate in a job training program. The number of recipients varies by month, but the state Human Services Department said 37,164 were eligible in October 2019. The change is likely to trim $5.5 billion from the federal food stamp program across the country over five years.
The state didn’t spend enough, and it still doesn’t have a plan. That, in essence, is what attorneys in the state’s landmark Martinez/Yazzie education lawsuit argue in a legal motion that seeks concrete steps to guarantee Native Americans, English learners, disabled and low-income students a sufficient education.
Wilhelmina Yazzie, lead plaintiff in the case, has two high schoolers in the Gallup McKinley district. She said even after the state pumped nearly half a billion into the public schools, her sons aren’t seeing it in the classroom. There are no new textbooks or computers, teachers are still providing resources out of pocket and classes that reflects their Navajo culture are still lacking. “I know a lot of our teachers, they do want to help our children.
A toddler waits while her companions finish an Easter cake for students at Bright Beginnings Child Development Center in Jal, NM. More New Mexico families will qualify for child care assistance without being wait-listed, and could stay longer on the program under proposed rules posted Monday by the Children Youth and Families Department. Under current eligibility limits put in place in the wake of a lawsuit against CYFD, families can qualify and stay on the child care program if they make less than two times the federal poverty level, but not one dollar more. The proposal would take the exit point up to 250% of the poverty level.
To put the changes in perspective, a single mother with two children could make up to $42,660 per year and qualify, and could keep getting child care assistance with increasing co-pays until she earned $53,325. About 90 percent of child care assistance recipients are single-parent households.
Karen Trujillo, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s pick for secretary of public education, speaks during a news conference Thursday, Jan. 24, 2019, in Santa Fe. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s decision to fire Education Secretary Karen Trujillo on Monday took a lot of people in New Mexico by surprise, including Trujillo, who said she was blindsided.
It’s been three days, and some New Mexicans suspect they haven’t been given the real reason Trujillo was fired and why now.
The administration has said it was about her ability to communicate, manage and meet the governor’s expectations for transforming public education in New Mexico.
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham
A spokesman initially pointed to the shaky rollout of a signature education program called K-5 Plus across the state, but the administration is beginning to walk back an effort to pin the firing on implementation of that program. Trujillo had pushed back, saying she didn’t get much direction from the governor and that she had raised alarm early on about how difficult K-5 Plus would be to implement immediately, as designed by the Legislature.
And Trujillo said if communication was deficient, it was on the part of the governor.
“It would have been nice to have a conversation with the governor where she said what her concerns were so that I could have done something about them, but that conversation never took place,” Trujillo said. Tripp Stelnicki, Lujan Grisham’s director of communications, said Trujillo heard from top administration officials from the governor’s office, including Lujan Grisham herself, about the governor’s frustration with her communications skills and leadership at the Public Education Department — and that Trujillo’s pushback comes from someone “with an axe to grind.”
This legislative session, state lawmakers pumped nearly half a billion dollars into New Mexico’s public schools. The plaintiffs in a landmark education funding lawsuit have three words to say to that:
It wasn’t enough.
In a scorching court brief filed this morning, the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty, which represents the plaintiffs in the Yazzie/Martinez vs. State of New Mexico case, said almost all of the money appropriated by the Legislature is going toward teacher salary increases. That has left little or nothing to expand programs that were specifically promoted by Judge Sarah Singleton as ways to sufficiently and equitably educate low-income, Native American, English language learner students and those with disabilities, said the Center in the brief.
The plaintiffs say the increase in education funding, when adjusted for inflation, still doesn’t bring the state back to pre-2008 funding levels.
That puts the state in direct violation, they contend, of the court order that stipulates the state rectify a failure in its constitutional duty to educate children. Lauren Winkler, staff attorney for the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty
“Unfortunately, the Legislative Finance Committee made financial decisions before education policy could be designed, so that led us to where we are now,” Lauren Winkler, an attorney with the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty, told NMID.
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.
Students in New Mexico are nowhere near prepared to go to college, join the workforce or engage in our democracy, according to closing arguments filed this week by the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty and MALDEF, in a lawsuit against the state. The groups, representing families and school districts, say the state Public Education Department isn’t providing the resources needed to properly educate its students, in violation of the state Constitution. “The problem is that for years the state has starved our public schools and denied our children the educational supports and programs and services they need so that they can learn and thrive,” said Gail Evans, legal director for the Center, who said she expects a decision from District Court Judge Sarah Singleton by the spring. Lawyers for the state PED agree that New Mexico schools need to improve and concede the job of the schools is to make students college and career ready. But that’s about all they agree on.
A couple of years ago a mother came to Ray Jaramillo, director of a childcare center in Las Cruces. She worked for minimum wage at Burger King, but was offered a supervisory position with better hours and a wage bump to over $9 an hour. She worried the extra money could cause her to lose childcare assistance for her two little girls. Between her and her spouse’s salary, their new earning power would push her family over the line for government-subsidized child-care. She had to figure out whether to take the promotion and risk paying thousands of dollars more each year for childcare, or forgo the extra family income.