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.
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 was not infrequent communication. These concerns were not new. Interventions failed, a change had to be made,” Stelnicki said.
U.S. District Judge Kenneth Gonzales laid out the stakes in a long-simmering lawsuitover 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.
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. Another mom with a teen daughter got benefits approved, but needed to wait more than two weeks for an EBT card.
This story originally appeared at New Mexico In Depth and is reprinted with permission.
ByEd Williams and John Roby, Searchlight New Mexico |
Five New Mexico residents are suing the Children, Youth and Families Department (CYFD), claiming the state is effectively cheating eligible low-income families out of money to pay for child care. According to the lawsuit, filed Tuesday in First Judicial District court in Santa Fe by the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty (CLP), CYFD is handing out child care assistance based on secretly formulated rules without clearly defined eligibility requirements, in violation of the state constitution. CLP brought the suit on behalf of five residents whose applications for child care assistance were denied. Olé, an Albuquerque-based community organizing group, is also a plaintiff. The complaint names Secretary Monique Jacobson, in her official capacity, as defendant.
Althea Yazzie, from McKinley County, said it was a slow build toward her support of Medicaid buy-in. But when her grandson was born premature and her son and his wife were stuck with an unexpectedly large bill, she started advocating for the option. That option would allow people to pay a premium, like for private insurance, to buy into Medicaid or a Medicaid-like program. Earlier this year, the state Legislature passed a memorial authorizing a study into the viability of Medicaid buy-in for the state. Supporters say this would not only save money for those buying in, but also for the state and hospitals.
School funding lawsuits are usually long legal slogs, but New Mexico’s timeline could be shortened by years. Late this morning, Democrat Michelle Lujan Grisham was the first candidate for governor to say she would not continue a legal battle over whether the state is meeting its financial obligations to adequately educate children. And she called on current Gov. Susana Martinez to not appeal a landmark judicial decision against the state last week. “For too long, our education system has failed our children, educators, families and communities, drastically undermining our economy and our public safety while straining our overburdened social services. Today, I am calling on Governor Martinez to publicly commit to not appealing the landmark education lawsuit decision,” said Michelle Lujan Grisham.
Proposed, sweeping and dramatic changes to a decades-old federal food aid program could have major negative impacts on many impoverished New Mexicans who rely on the program. Donald Trump’s administration proposed changes to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), previously known as food stamps, in his most recent budget recommendation. The proposal included providing food boxes to those who qualify for the program while slashing the amount of money the federal government spends by 30 percent over ten years. All of this would likely result in fewer people receiving fewer benefits through the program. While the state splits the administrative costs of the program with the federal government, the federal government provides funding for the SNAP benefits New Mexicans receive.
If state Sen. Bill Soules had his way, New Mexico would invest an extra $375 million in public schools right now. Where the cash-strapped state would find that money is another matter altogether. Soules, a Las Cruces Democrat, has once again introduced legislation calling for the state to follow the recommendation of a decadeold study and funnel hundreds of millions of dollars more into its public education system — one that generally ranks at or near the bottom in most national reports. But Soules’ bill doesn’t have a chance in the upcoming legislative session. And he knows it.
The Trump administration announced Thursday it would allow states to impose work requirements on “able-bodied” adults who receive Medicaid. In New Mexico, it’s not clear if the Martinez administration will pursue such requirements, but if so, it would likely take months to go through the process. “Medicaid needs to be more flexible so that states can best address the needs of this population,” Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) Administrator Seema Verma said in a statement. That center is part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. “Our fundamental goal is to make a positive and lasting difference in the health and wellness of our beneficiaries, and today’s announcement is a step in that direction.”
States would need to do so through a specific waiver with CMS.
New Mexico has been stopped from imposing such requirements in other programs. In 2016, a federal judge stopped the state from requiring people to work who receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits because of a long-running federal lawsuit over the state’s inability to process aid.
How New Mexico educates its children will be in the hands of a state judge soon as a landmark trial against the state Public Education Department wraps up. Over eight weeks, the trial has featured dozens of witnesses and numerous citations to academic studies and policy reports. But in the end, the trial before First Judicial District Judge Sarah Singleton in Santa Fe boiled down to dueling worldviews. The plaintiffs — the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF) — cited education outcomes for low-income, Native American and English language learners as evidence that New Mexico does not meet its constitutional obligation to provide a sufficient education for all children. This story originally appeared at New Mexico In Depth and is reprinted with permission.
LAS CRUCES—A year-old scandal involving alleged systemic fraud with the state’s management of federal food aid benefits was the elephant in the federal courtroom Thursday. Both Kenneth Gonzales, a federal district judge, and Lawrence Parker, a court-appointed “special master” who is tasked with guiding the New Mexico Human Service Department (HSD) in its federal compliance with Medicaid and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits, alluded to the scandal at the hearing. “What nobody wants to see, and you especially, is a culture that allows this to happen,” Gonzales told HSD Secretary Brent Earnest. Parker emphasized that “many of those same people” who were alleged in 2016 to have instructed HSD employees to falsify SNAP applications to meet federal quotas “are still in place” at the department.[perfectpullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]No ads. No clickbait.