More than one year after three top state officials refused to answer questions in federal court about fraud allegations and nine months after a federal judge held their cabinet secretary in contempt of court, the state Human Services Department (HSD) appears to still be seriously mishandling how it processes federal benefits to New Mexico’s poor. [perfectpullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]No ads. No clickbait. Just news. [/perfectpullquote]This includes an apparent department directive instructing caseworkers to limit interviews with those enrolled in and seeking federal benefits and lie to their superiors about it.
A judge temporarily halted a New Mexico state agency’s self-imposed limitations on wage theft claims.
In a ruling Tuesday afternoon, Santa Fe District Judge David Thomson ordered that, for now, the state Department of Workforce Solutions (DWS) cannot automatically deny complaints of wage theft that total more than $10,000. The state department is also not allowed to automatically turn down claims that happened more than a year before they’re made. “Wage theft” refers to an employer denying payments owed to an employee in any way, which can include paying below minimum wage and refusing to pay overtime, for example. Thomson’s temporary restraining order against the state comes because of a class-action lawsuit filed just two weeks ago by “low income workers” who made wage theft claims against their employers to DWS. Ten individuals named in the lawsuit allege that DWS’ handling of their wage theft claims violate multiple state laws.
While New Mexico’s poverty rate is slowly dropping, its still high enough to rank the second poorest state in the nation. And this year, the unthinkable nearly happened. As Stateline recently wrote, “New Mexico is close to overtaking Mississippi as the state with the highest percentage of its population living in poverty.” New Mexico’s poverty rate sits at 21.3 percent, just decimals behind Mississippi’s rate of 21.5 percent. Both are the only states to break above a 20 percent poverty rate.
Pope Francis selected John C. Wester as the next Archbishop for the diocese of Santa Fe. Wester was recently the bishop of Salt Lake City. He will replace Archbishop Michael Sheehan, who has to retire after turning 75, in June. In a press conference, Sheehan said, according to the Albuquerque Journal::This appointment was a Pope-Francis kind of appointment, representing the values that the pope himself has,” Sheehan said of Wester. “There were choices.
[box type=”info” style=”rounded”]SHARON KAYNE is the Communications Director for New Mexico Voices for Children, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization advocating for policies to improve the health and well-being of New Mexico’s children, families and communities.[/box]
A sharp racial/ethnic divide has emerged within the world of low-income working families, posing a critical equity and economic challenge to New Mexico and the nation, a new study concludes. Hispanics and African-Americans, who will continue to emerge as a larger segment of the workforce, will remain under-prepared and underpaid unless lawmakers in New Mexico are willing to pursue policies that would improve conditions. The disturbing portrait of America’s low-income working families was sketched by the Working Poor Families Project based on new analysis of the most recent data from the U.S. Census Bureau. The Project’s study sheds a fresh light on what’s happening inside the world of the working poor, where adults are working hard but finding it difficult if not impossible to get ahead. And within this world at the bottom of America’s economic spectrum, a stark divide has emerged between white and Asian families compared to black and Hispanic families.
Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham spoke to the New Mexico legislature on Tuesday about a number of issues. She called on legislators to declare a war on poverty and reiterated her call for independent investigators into police shootings. [View the story “Lujan Grisham calls for NM war on poverty” on Storify]