Court orders CYFD to lawfully manage Child Care Assistance Program

Department increased eligibility levels after families sued last year

SANTA FE—Working families will have increased access to much needed child care assistance as a result of a court order approving an agreement between working families and the New Mexico Children, Youth and Families Department. The order, entered by the First Judicial District Court in Santa Fe yesterday, mandates that CYFD will follow the law in managing New Mexico’s Childcare Assistance Program.

“Every family deserves access to quality child care while parents are at work or in school,” said Maria Griego, supervising attorney at the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty. “Only a third of eligible families in New Mexico currently access child care assistance because the application process and eligibility requirements are inconsistent and confusing. The settlement is a critical opportunity for CYFD to improve the well-being of children. We look forward to working with this administration to fix long standing barriers.”

Several families and OLÉ, represented by the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty, sued the department in September 2018, charging that CYFD illegally established a policy of denying child care assistance to families with incomes over 150% of the federal poverty level—a yearly income of $31,170 for a family of three—without publishing a regulation or going through the required public comment and hearing process. The lawsuit also argued that CYFD illegally failed to provide adequate notice to families about their child care benefits or establish a regulation that explains how CYFD determines the share of costs the family has to pay.

After the lawsuit, CYFD immediately increased eligibility for child care assistance to families with incomes up to 200% of the federal poverty level.

The court order requires CYFD to:

  • Maintain the current eligibility level until or unless CYFD lawfully passes regulations with public comment with a different eligibility level;
  • Put into regulation child care assistance eligibility requirements, including how CYFD calculates the amount of costs shared by parents;
  • Revise notices and forms that families receive or fill out in the application process;
  • Revise the manual CYFD workers use to determine eligibility for assistance;
  • Post eligibility information and application rights in all CYFD offices.

“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 Traeshaun Buffin a community organizer at OLÉ. “The astronomical costs of child care prevent tens of thousands of New Mexican families with children from accessing meaningful work and educational opportunities. We’re so pleased that CYFD has agreed to stop denying eligible families the child care assistance they need and to adopt standards with public input to make the program affordable and predictable.”

The court order can be found here: http://nmpovertylaw.org/9-order-torres_2019_05_06/

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

Press conference tomorrow on lawsuit challenging CYFD’s illegal denials of child care assistance

ALBUQUERQUE—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 illegally denied much needed child care assistance to eligible families. Working parents and OLÉ, represented by the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty, will hold a press conference this Wednesday announcing a lawsuit against CYFD for violating New Mexico’s statutory and constitutional law.

CYFD illegally denies child care assistance to families with incomes over 150 percent of the federal poverty level—a yearly income of $31,170 for a family of three. CYFD’s own regulations state that the cut off for child care assistance eligibility is over 200 percent of the federal poverty level.

CYFD also fails to inform families of their right to challenge denials. When CYFD does provide child care assistance, it illegally forces families to shell out unaffordable co-pays without explanation of how it determined the arbitrary amounts.

The lawsuit will be filed Tuesday evening.

WHAT:
Press conference announcing a lawsuit against CYFD for illegally denying eligible families child care assistance.

WHO:   

  • Working parents and their families illegally denied child care assistance who are plaintiffs in the lawsuit
  • Representatives from OLÉ
  • Attorneys from the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty

WHEN: 
Wednesday, September 26 at 9:00 a.m.

WHERE:
Children Youth & Families Department, 3401 Pan American Fwy NE, Albuquerque, NM 87107

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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.

Breaking down barriers to child care assistance

by Maria Griego & Sovereign Hager

One often insurmountable barrier to financial security for many New Mexican families is the high cost of child care, this is especially true for low-wage workers. The astronomical costs prevent thousands of families with children from accessing meaningful work and educational opportunities. Unfortunately, while the number of New Mexicans who qualify for state-provided child care assistance has increased, enrollment in the program has actually declined.

We dug into the problem and found that the Children, Youth and Families Department required families to go through a torturous child care assistance enrollment process. Families automatically eligible for child care assistance because they engage in work and educational activities through our state cash assistance program (TANF) were forced to visit multiple offices to turn in unnecessary paperwork. Many families lack reliable transportation, and the frequent office visits interfered with work and school schedules, making it impossible for them to complete the process.

We also found that CYFD sent confusing and threatening letters to participating families in an attempt to illegally recoup erroneous prior overpayments of child care benefits. The letters demanded clients return money within 15 days or have their balance sent to collections. Unpaid overpayments can bar families from the child care assistance program. Families eligible for assistance often live from paycheck to paycheck and unexpected bills can cause financial distress and bankruptcy.

The New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty reached out to CYFD and informed them that the requests for back payment were illegal. We also offered to help streamline their administrative processes to improve access to the child care assistance program, especially for the lowest income families that are automatically eligible.

CYFD agreed to stop sending the letters and accepted our proposal to drastically simplify the application process. The state also issued regulations that established a clear time frame for processing applications so families do not have to wait indefinitely for benefits if they are eligible. Since these changes were implemented, nearly $24,000 has been returned to families who were illegally changed for prior over payments and there has been a 39 percent increase in enrollment of the families already enrolled in TANF.

While this is great progress there are still far fewer people enrolled in the program than who are eligible. There’s much more work to be done. Families are still required to turn in in unnecessary paperwork and have difficulty in the application process because notices that families receive are not translated into Spanish.  Families are not informed about their right to appeal a denial of benefits.

Find out if you’re eligible for child care assistance and learn how to apply here. You can find information in Spanish here. Please spread the word!

Photo credit: freeABQimages.com