Over 27,000 New Mexicans could lose food assistance due to Trump administration rule

ALBUQUERQUE—Federal food assistance was created to increase nutrition levels and eliminate hunger. However, the Trump administration published a final rule yesterday that threatens food assistance for more than 27,255 New Mexicans and 755,000 low-income adults nationwide. The rule will go into effect on April 1, 2020.

Federal law already required that states limit Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) eligibility to just three months out of every three years for unemployed and underemployed adults without dependent children unless they can document 20 hours of work a week. The Trump administration rule makes the requirement even harsher by preventing many states from waiving these draconian time limits in areas with high unemployment.

“There is absolutely no excuse for anyone in the richest country in the world to ever go hungry,” said Sovereign Hager, legal director at the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty. “There has always been bipartisan support for protecting food assistance. The Trump administration chose to sidestep Congress, which rejected these cuts in the 2018 Farm Bill, and push cuts through by regulation.

“We’re proud to be from a state that opposed the rule,” said Teague González, supervising attorney at the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty. “Now, more than ever, it’s important New Mexico quickly institute a strong plan for more employment and training programs to mitigate the harmful impact of this rule. If it does not, thousands of people will be locked out of food assistance for up to three years.”

New Mexico has some of the highest rates of food insecurity in the United States and implemented a statewide waiver of the time limits for decades because the state’s unemployment levels have been more than 20 percent above the national average. But counties like Catron, Cibola, McKinley, Mora, Sierra, Taos, and Torrance—with unemployment rates over seven percent—will no longer qualify for a waiver. The same would be true for most Native American communities in the state.

There is no evidence that proposals to take food assistance away from people who do not meet new, expanded work requirements increases employment or earnings. However, data from states that implemented time limits show that the vast majority of adults simply lost SNAP benefits without finding employment. 

The people who receive food assistance in New Mexico who can work, do work; 46 percent are in working families. Others have disabilities, are elderly, or simply cannot find work. The adults affected are some of the lowest income of all SNAP participants. USDA data shows that those likely to be cut off by the time limit have an average monthly income of about 17 percent of the poverty line.

“The people impacted by this rule have been systematically disenfranchised by our economic system and face real barriers to maintaining and documenting full time employment,” said González. “Taking away basic food assistance only makes people hungry and does not help anyone find a job. The government should instead be implementing what we know helps people find work, and that’s individualized job training, a fair minimum wage, affordable childcare and housing.” 

SNAP cuts will hurt grocers and New Mexico’s economy. SNAP benefits are spent at more than 1,588 authorized retailers in New Mexico, including grocers and local food retailers around the state. About $693 million of SNAP benefits were redeemed in New Mexico in 2016. The average New Mexico SNAP benefit in FY 2017 was $121. When multiplied by the 27,244 people who could lose benefits under the proposed rule, up to $3,296,524 federal dollars could leave the state.

SNAP cuts will also mean an increase in public healthcare costs for New Mexico. A study published by the American Medical Association found that on average SNAP participation lowers an individual’s health care expenditures by approximately $1,447 per year.

Court asked to order HSD to implement plan to remove barriers to food and medical assistance  

HSD and Center on Law and Poverty jointly drafted the court approved corrective action plan the department now refuses to adopt  

LAS CRUCES—Families continue to go without food and medical assistance they are eligible for because the New Mexico Human Services Department has failed to implement major elements of a corrective action plan the department itself helped draft and the court approved and mandated. In a motion filed yesterday evening on behalf of plaintiffs in the lawsuit Deborah Hatten Gonzales v. David Scrase, the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty asked a U.S. District Court to order HSD to comply with the plan, set deadlines, share information, and meet with plaintiffs.

“No family should have to go hungry or be without health coverage, but that’s exactly what’s happening in New Mexico,” said Teague Gonzalez, supervising attorney at the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty. “We were encouraged by the plan we developed with HSD, but the department has stopped cooperating and is refusing to set deadlines and fix long standing problems. HSD needs to implement the plan they agreed to immediately.”

While HSD has made some progress, serious failures continue. In the motion, the Center charges that HSD has refused to implement a corrective action plan and court ordered changes including: 

  • Improving its notoriously faulty IT system so families with immigrant members are not illegally denied benefits or required to provide documents that are not necessary to get benefits for eligible family members; 
  • Fixing the language in form notices so they explain how families can prove their eligibility to maintain their food and medical assistance and clearly understand why they are denied benefits; and
  • Implementing basic eligibility content into a worker manual, improve regulations and worker training. 

The court mandated a review of HSD case files that was completed in February 2019. In this audit, the Center found tremendous errors in 67 percent of all cases involving immigrant families. Of these, 60 percent resulted in a delay of one month or more receiving assistance.

In 2016, the court held former HSD Secretary Brent Earnest in contempt for failing to remove systemic barriers to assistance for eligible families applying for food and Medicaid assistance and appointed a Special Master to monitor and make recommendations to the department.

Judge Kenneth Gonzales set a series of deadlines in April 2018 for HSD compliance with court ordered reforms. Under new HSD Secretary David Scrase, plaintiffs and HSD jointly drafted, and agreed upon, a corrective action plan that the court approved in July 2019. However, HSD hired a new acting general counsel in August 2019 and collaboration has halted.

The long-running Hatten-Gonzales lawsuit was originally filed in 1989. While some progress has been made, HSD has never satisfactorily 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.

There will be a status conference on the state’s compliance with the multiple court orders to remove barriers to food and medical assistance for eligible families tomorrow at 10:00 a.m. in U.S. District Court in Las Cruces before Judge Kenneth Gonzales.

The court motion can be found here: http://nmpovertylaw.org/hatten-gonzales-v-earnest-motion-to-enforce-judgment-2019-11-19/

The New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty report on its case review can be found here: http://nmpovertylaw.org/nmclp-report-on-hsd-case-review-2019-02-25-redacted/

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/

Court hearing Thursday on HSD compliance with orders to remove barriers to food and medical assistance

LAS CRUCES—On Thursday at 10:00 a.m., in U.S. District Court in Las Cruces, Judge Kenneth Gonzales will hear an update on the New Mexico Human Services Department’s compliance with multiple court orders to remove barriers to food and medical assistance for eligible families.

In September 2016, Judge Gonzales held former HSD Secretary Brent Earnest in contempt for failing to remove barriers to assistance for eligible families. The court appointed a Special Master to monitor and make recommendations to the department. In April 2018, the judge set a series of deadlines for HSD compliance with court ordered reforms.

In July of 2019, the court approved a jointly-developed corrective action plan to address systemic barriers to food and medical assistance. Thursday’s status conference will include updates from both parties and the Special Master on the status of HSD’s implementation of the plan.

WHAT:

U.S District Court status conference on HSD compliance with court orders in Deborah Hatten Gonzales v. David Scrase, No. 88-385 KG/CG    

WHEN:

Thursday, November 21, 2019 at 10:00 a.m.

WHERE:

United States Courthouse, 4th Floor, 420 Mimbres Courtroom (North Tower), 100 N. Church Street, Las Cruces, New Mexico 88001

WHO:

New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty attorneys,Court Appointed Special Master Lawrence M. Parker, HSD Secretary and Attorneys

The New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty report on it’s case review can be found here: http://nmpovertylaw.org/nmclp-report-on-hsd-case-review-2019-02-25-redacted/

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/

ACTION ALERT: Tell the Trump administration not to cut SNAP

We have a shared commitment in our country that no one should ever go hungry, but a new rule proposed by the Trump administration would cause approximately 12,261 New Mexicans to lose food assistance. The rule is so draconian, it  would drop thousands of children from  free and reduced school lunch across the state. 

We need your help to let the Trump administration know that you oppose this attack on New Mexico’s families! Submit your public comment by Monday, September 23.

The rule cuts food assistance by eliminating state ability to increase the gross income test for SNAP. Currently, states have the flexibility to set this test between 130% and 200% of the federal poverty level. New Mexico currently sets the gross income limit at 165% of the federal poverty level. 

In New Mexico over 6,639 single parents, including 2,961 single parents in school and 5,607 children are among those who would lose food benefits. Children who receive SNAP food assistance are categorically eligible for free and reduced lunch and are automatically enrolled. Children cut off of SNAP would lose this enrollment option.. 

Cuts to federal food assistance also hurt our local economy. Over $30 million in economic activity will be lost if New Mexicans lose federal food benefits under this rule. 

The proposal would also end streamlined enrollment options that reduce paperwork for families who are already receiving services funded by New Mexico’s Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Program. Under the proposal, these families would no longer be exempt from the burdensome requirement to document assets.. 

New Mexicans have fought back against similar policies proposed by the Martinez administration, and made it clear that we should fight hunger not hungry people. 

Deadline to submit your public comments: September 23, 2019. 

Submit your comments here: https://www.regulations.gov/document?D=FNS-2018-0037-0001 

What to include in your comment: 

Use the outline below to draft a comment that reflects your opposition to the rule. It does not have to be long or detailed. However, please write some original text to maximize the impact. 

1. Say you oppose the proposal: 

  • I strongly oppose the proposed rule that will take food assistance away from families. 

2. Explain the impact of the proposal on your community: 

  • If the Trump Administration implements the rule, approximately 12,261 New Mexicans will lose food assistance that includes 5,607 children. 
  • One in five New Mexicans participate in the SNAP program. 
  • New Mexico has the highest rate of food insecurity in the nation. According to 2019 USDA Economic Research Service data, 16.8% of New Mexico’s households are food insecure. 
  • The rule jeopardizes access to free and reduced lunch, because kids who are eligible for SNAP are also eligible for automatic enrollment free and reduced school lunch. 
  • The rule will cause a loss of approximately $30 million in economic activity, and SNAP dollars are spent in the local economy. 

3. Explain why the policy is wrong: 

  • The proposal runs contrary to the purpose of SNAP, which is to “safeguard the health and well-being of the Nation’s population by raising levels of nutrition among low-income households.” 
  • Losing SNAP can mean an increase in healthcare costs. A study published by the American Medical Association found that on average SNAP participation lowers an individual’s health care expenditures by approximately $1,447.00 per year. 
  • Families who work for low wages, or who cannot find enough work hours, will be expected to go hungry.

ACTION ALERT: Tell CYFD to make childcare assistance accessible to NM’s hardworking families!

New Mexico’s Childcare Assistance program through the Children Youth and Families Department gives families access to childcare while they work or attend school. However, only a third of eligible children access the program because of high copays and other problems. Childcare assistance helps parents improve their income and earning potential with the peace of mind that their children are in a safe environment.  

We need your help. Speak out at a public hearing August 30 and submit public comments asking CYFD to make childcare assistance accessible for New Mexico’s hard working families! 

Support positive changes: In late July, CYFD issued proposed regulations that change childcare eligibility requirements. Some of the changes were positive and resulted from our collective advocacy efforts earlier this year—including maintaining eligibility at 200% of the Federal Poverty Level for families entering the program and increasing eligibility to 250% of FPL for families exiting the program. CYFD also capped the fees for families’ enrollment and registration at $60 per year. 

Tell CYFD to also make critical changes: Families should only be required to pay an affordable share of childcare costs.

  • Families with incomes below the poverty line should not have copays. Families should not have to choose between paying for childcare or other basic necessities like food and clothing. Currently, CYFD charges copayments to families with incomes at or above 25% of FPL. This causes participation to drop by about half for some of the lowest income families in the state due to the high financial burden of the copayments. New Mexico should eliminate copayments for families living below the poverty line to ensure that families can access childcare and meet basic needs. 
  • Copays should be capped so they are affordable. Everyone should have access to affordable child care so they can pursue career and educational opportunities. CYFD has not set a cap on copayments and parents often pay more than 10% to 15% of their income towards child care costs, even when they are getting assistance. Federal guidance recommends that copayments be no higher than 7% of a family’s income to be affordable. Parents who cannot afford the copayment often have to reduce their work hours or seek alternative and often unreliable care. 

Childcare assistance needs to be more accessible to grandparents raising their grandchildren. If grandparents enroll grandchildren in a cash assistance program, the child automatically receives both cash and childcare assistance without any consideration of the grandparents’ income. However, many grandparents, especially those living on fixed incomes, who don’t know about or need cash assistance programs still need childcare assistance. The department should align its rules to make childcare assistance available to all grandparents raising grandchildren.

Childcare regulations should provide complete information about eligibility requirements. CYFD’s proposed regulations do not explain how the department counts income to determine eligibility or exactly what paperwork is required. Families have a right to know how CYFD makes these decisions. To be fair and effective, the program must be transparent and eligibility information must be accessible. 

Join the fight to make childcare assistance more affordable to New Mexico’s families!

Speak out at the public hearing Friday, August 30, at 10:00 a.m. in Apodaca Hall, 1120 Paseo De Peralta, Santa Fe, NM 87502.

Submit written public comments no later than August 30, 2019 at 10:00 a.m. by email to CYFD-ECS-PublicComment@state.nm.u with the subject line “8.15.2 NMAC Public Comment,” or via first class mail or hand delivered to Kimberly Brown, Child Care Services Bureau, Children, Youth and Families Department, P.O. Drawer 5160, Santa Fe, NM 87502-5160.  

You can find the full proposed changes at: 

http://164.64.110.134/nmac/nmregister/xxx/CYFDearly_Notice_xxx14.html 

Trump’s alarming “Public Charge” rule attacks immigrants, threatening access to food and healthcare

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 Medicaid, housing assistance, and SNAP food assistance. The rule also adds specific requirements into the public charge test, including income, age, health and English proficiency. Advocacy groups condemn the new rule, which goes into effect October 15, 2019.

“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 choose between feeding their children or having access to medical care or risking family separation. In New Mexico, we value taking care of our families and neighbors. As Nuevo Mexicanos, we need to look for solutions to provide safety net services for our communities and we must fight back against Trump’s racist agenda by continuing to organize and building upon our legacy in New Mexico of supporting immigrant integration.”   

“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 application for permanent residency. 

“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 applying for much-needed public benefits for themselves and their children, at a time when many of them already feel under attack.”

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.
 

Child care assistance hearing postponed

We did it! Thanks to all your hard work, the Children, Youth and Families Department announced yesterday that it will not cut child care assistance eligibility to 160% of the Federal Poverty Level as it proposed. It will maintain the current eligibility of 200% FPL for child care assistance contracts.

The hearing scheduled for Monday, July 8 has been postponed until further notice.

While this is great news, CYFD still requires families to pay unaffordable copays. Too many parents are forced to drop out of the child care assistance program and find cheaper⁠ and often less safe⁠ alternatives or reduce their work hours or drop out of school.

CYFD will reschedule the hearing and will continue to take public comment on this issue. Let’s keep the momentum going!

We ALL depend on child care to work or pursue an education. Thank you for submitting comments, making phone calls, and for standing with New Mexico’s parents and children!

You can read about CYFD’s announcement here.

Public hearing on cuts to CYFD’s child care assistance on Monday, July 8

SANTA FE—There is a public hearing on proposed cuts to the Children, Youth and Families Department’s Child Care Assistance program on Monday, July 8 in Santa FeCYFD’s proposed regulation changes will prevent thousands of parents who are working or in school from getting much needed child care and continue to require families to pay an unaffordable share of costs. 

The regulation would hurt hard working New Mexico families by cutting child care assistance eligibility to 160% of the Federal Poverty Level from 200%. This means fewer working families will have access to child care assistance, even though the program is one of the best work support programs available to help families exit poverty and increase financial stability.

CYFD’s proposed regulations also fail to address affordability for the child care assistance program. Unfortunately, CYFD requires low-income working families to pay an unaffordable share of their income toward copayments. The federal government has urged states to ensure affordability for child care assistance by capping the family’s share of costs at no more than 7% of their income. Under CYFD’s current copayment requirements, families often pay 10% or more. This makes it difficult for families to pay for other necessary expenses like food and housing. 

The proposed regulation and public comments on the proposed cuts can be found here: https://www.newmexicokids.org/ 

WHAT:          
Public hearing on proposed CYFD regulation that would cut eligibility to the state’s Child Care Assistance program

WHEN: 
Monday, July 8, 2019 at 11:00 am          

WHERE:          
Apodaca Hall, 1120 Paseo De Peralta, Santa Fe, NM 87502.

WHO:             
CYFD
Families who would be impacted by the proposed cuts
Other members of the public  

ACTION ALERT: Tell CYFD not to cut child care assistance!

All families need access to affordable child care so they can make a living and pursue future career opportunities. But in a move that will prevent parents who are working or in school from getting much needed child care, the Children, Youth and Families Department proposed this week to cut eligibility to New Mexico’s Child Care Assistance Program and to continue to require families to pay an unaffordable share of costs. Without access to affordable child care, families will be forced to either go without child care or forego education or employment opportunities.

The regulation will hurt hard working New Mexico families by:

  • Cutting eligibility to 160% FPL from 200%. This means less families will have access to child care assistance, even though they are low income.  
  • Requiring low-income families to pay an unaffordable share of costs. Federal guidance found that child care costs over 7% are not affordable for working families. CYFD’s proposal requires families to pay more than 10% of their income towards child care and higher, depending on the size of a family.

Please tell CYFD to make child care accessible and affordable for New Mexican families!

Speak out at the public hearing:
Monday, July 8, 2019 at 11:00 a.m.
Apodaca Hall, 1120 Paseo De Peralta, Santa Fe, NM 87502.

Submit written public comment no later than July 8, 2019 at 11:00 a.m.

  • By email to: CYFD-ECS-PublicComment@state.nm.us with the subject line “8.15.2 NMAC Public Comment” or
  • By mail to: Kimberly Brown, Child Care Services Bureau, CYFD, P.O. Drawer 5160, Santa Fe, NM 87502-5160.  

Sample content for public comment on cuts to child care assistance. 

Slashing eligibility for child care assistance harms New Mexico’s families!
Families need reliable and safe child care so that they can make a living and pursue future career opportunities. Without child care assistance, families are often unable to afford appropriate child care and are faced with the difficult choice of either resorting to lower quality care or foregoing education or work opportunities. CYFD raised eligibility to 200% of the federal poverty level in November of 2018 and enrollment has not increased. CYFD should seek supplemental funding from the legislature before cutting the eligibility level.

CYFD’s copayments are unaffordable!
According to CYFD data, just a third of eligible families participate in the program. Federal law requires CYFD to make co-payments affordable for families. Federal guidance recommends that co-payments be no higher than 7% of a family’s income. CYFD has not set a cap on copayments, and parents often pay much more than 10% of their income on child care, including families living in deep poverty. CYFD data from FY2017, shows a 66% drop in participation in the program once families are charged a copay, beginning with incomes as low as 25% to 50% of the FPL. Parents who cannot afford the copayment often have to reduce their work hours or seek alternative and often unreliable care. Families should not have to choose between paying for childcare or other basic necessities like food and clothing. New Mexico’s kids deserve better!

Proposed cuts to child care assistance will force parents to give up employment and educational opportunities

Eligible families sued department last year over arbitrary denials of assistance

SANTA FE—In a move that will prevent families from getting much needed child care, the State of New Mexico proposes to cut eligibility to child care assistance available to parents who are working or in school. A regulation released yesterday, would reduce families’ eligibility to incomes of 160% and lower of the federal poverty level. Currently, families with incomes up to 200% of the FPL qualify for assistance. The regulation also provides some information used to determine family copays, which continue to be unaffordable according to federal standards.

The proposed rule will reduce the number of families eligible for child care assistance and continue to burden parents with unaffordable copays that force them to go without child care and forego education or employment opportunities. Children, Youth and Families Department data from FY2017, shows a 66% drop in participation in the program once families are charged a copay, beginning with incomes as low as 25% to 50% of the FPL. According to CYFD data, just a third of eligible families participate in the program.

“We urge CYFD to change this proposed regulation so that more, not fewer, families have access to the child care they desperately need. We know that CYFD wants to increase opportunities for New Mexico’s families. One clear way to do that is to help hard-working parents keep their jobs and stay in school by providing help with the exorbitant costs of child care. Unfortunately, too few families qualify, and those who do must come up with copays that are so high that many are forced to leave the program and give up on careers and their education or resort to unreliable and unlicensed care,” said Maria Griego, supervising attorney at the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty.

Griego added, “We are concerned that the state is cutting benefits when enrollment has decreased. We need safeguards that ensure child care copayments are actually affordable so families can benefit from the program. This means adequate funding at the legislature that is based on the economic reality facing New Mexico families. The state should seek supplemental funding to prevent cuts right now.”

CYFD agreed to issue regulations that detail eligibility requirements for the Child Care Assistance Program following a lawsuit filed by Organizers in the Land of Enchantment (OLÉ) and families represented by the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty. The lawsuit, Torres v. Jacobson, argued that the department illegally reduced eligibility and determined the amount of child care assistance without going through the public regulatory process required by law.

After the lawsuit was filed, CYFD immediately increased eligibility to 200% of the federal poverty level, which it now proposes to cut.

“When CYFD extended the eligibility requirements, it opened the doors for more parents out there struggling to find childcare and now they are looking to close that door again,” said Brian Gelepsie, OLÉ member. “The state is messing with families’ livelihoods when families have to decide between paying for childcare or having a roof over their heads. Our parents and children deserve better.”

The proposed Child Care Assistance Program regulation:

  • Cuts eligibility to 160% FPL—even though enrollment in the program is dropping.
  • Sets child care copayments at unaffordable levels and fails to explain the details of how copayments are calculated. For example, the department applies a 10% increase to base copayments for every case, but this is not in regulation.
  • Does not clearly articulate how CYFD calculates income to determine eligibility or how the application process works.
  • Does not require applications and eligibility documents to be in languages other than English.

A public hearing on the rule is scheduled to take place in Santa Fe on July 8, 2019.