Families sue CYFD over illegal denial of child care assistance

SANTA FE—Access to quality and affordable child care is critical for working families and parents who are in school. Unfortunately, the New Mexico Children, Youth and Families Department has been illegally and arbitrarily denying eligible families much needed child care assistance. Several parents and OLÉ, represented by the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty, sued the agency late yesterday in First Judicial District Court for violating New Mexico’s state laws and constitution.

“We should all be able to go to work knowing we’re leaving our children in good hands,” said Annette Torres, one of the plaintiffs in the Torres v Jacobson lawsuit. “I really cannot tell you how devastated I was when CYFD denied me child care assistance. It’s just been a tremendous struggle to make ends meet. Without child care, I wouldn’t be able to work.”

Families represented in the lawsuit include a parent who will not be able to return to her managerial job because she cannot afford full time child care. Instead, she will take another job with a different employer for less hours and lower wages. Other parents in the lawsuit are preschool teachers and a medical assistant who cannot afford the ever changing and unpredictable co-pays, some as high as $400 a month, that CYFD assigns to them.

The Torres v Jacobson lawsuit claims that CYFD illegally established a policy of denying child care assistance to families with incomes over 150 percent of the federal poverty levela yearly income of $31,170 for a family of threewithout publishing a regulation or going through the required public comment and hearing process. CYFD’s own regulations state that the eligibility for child care assistance is considerably higher, set at 200 percent of the federal poverty level. Families still experience financial hardship even with incomes above 200 percent of the federal poverty level.

CYFD also illegally turns away families looking for child care assistance without informing them of their right to challenge a denial of benefits.

“We know that the earliest years in children’s lives are the most important in their development and lay the foundation for all that is to come,” said Monica Ault, attorney with the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty. “All working families need access to affordable childcare and preschool that they can trust. Families denied child care assistance have had to turn down work opportunities, drop out of school, or are forced to seek alternative care that is often low-quality and not developmentally appropriate for their children.”  

When CYFD does provide child care assistance, it illegally forces families to shell out unaffordable co-pays without explanation of how it determined the amounts. CYFD’s methods for calculating copayment amounts are arbitrary and have not been established through a public and transparent rulemaking process as required by law. The agency will not explain how it determines copayments beyond saying that the computer system does it.

The federal government has established seven percent of income as a benchmark of affordability for child care assistance. However, CYFD sets co-payments considerably higher for a large share of families. Plaintiffs in the lawsuit shoulder child care costs of over 10 percent of family income.

“Our family has had to make many sacrifices so that my wife and I can go to work knowing that our children are getting safe, quality care,” said John Cambra whose wife is a plaintiff. “It’s been incredibly difficult to make things work. Our co-pays were so high that we’ve had to go without transportation and ask our families to help us with things like diapers and wipes for our children.”

“One often insurmountable barrier to financial security for many families is the high cost of child care, and this is especially true for low-wage workers,” added Traeshaun Buffin a community organizer at OLÉ. “The astronomical costs prevent tens of thousands of New Mexican families with children from accessing meaningful work and educational opportunities. CYFD should stop denying eligible families the child care assistance they need. CYFD needs to adopt standards with public input to make the program affordable and predictable.”

The complaint can be found here: http://nmpovertylaw.org/torres-v-jacobson-first-amended-complaint-with-exhibits/

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The New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty is dedicated to advancing economic and social justice through education, advocacy, and litigation. We work with low-income New Mexicans to improve living conditions, increase opportunities, and protect the rights of people living in poverty.

OLÉ is a non-profit, who uses grassroots organizing within the local community of working families in New Mexico. Our members and staff work together to strengthen our communities through social advocacy and economic reform, using issue-based campaigns and electoral engagement to ensure that working families are playing a critical role in shaping New Mexico’s future with a united voice.