ALBUQUERQUE—Many more families now qualify for New Mexico’s Child Care Assistance Program after the elimination of multiple unnecessary eligibility requirements. The program provides help with the costs of child care for parents and guardians who are working or in school. The Early Childhood Education and Care Department released the new rules, which became effective yesterday, after workers and worker’s rights groups lobbied New Mexico agencies for years to eliminate barriers to the program.
Notably, the new rules no longer force parents to pursue child support from the child’s other parent in order to qualify for assistance. Most parents, faced with fruitlessly antagonizing coparents—who sometimes were their former abusers—choose to simply forgo much needed childcare along with employment and work opportunities.
Twenty-seven states, including Arizona, have already eliminated this requirement because it is burdensome for families, costly to administer, and is not in the best interests of the parent and child.
“I am happy to see the Early Childhood Education and Care Department take concerns of New Mexico parents so seriously,” said Karina Pizaro who is a member of OLÉ. “These regulation changes mean that so many more families are going to be able to apply for childcare and not be left with the extra struggles on top of having to take care of their family.”
Other changes to New Mexico’s Child Care Assistance Program that make child care assistance more accessible include:
Parents can now submit applications electronically instead of only in-person.
Other forms of assistance, like TANF, child support, and unemployment no longer count as income in the application.
Graduate school now satisfies the education requirement.
Waiving copays during health emergencies.
Parents already participating in the program can now communicate changes in child care needs to ECECD by phone.
Parents will no longer be subject to a mid-year recertification process or investigated for overpayment unless there is substantiated fraud.
“Before the pandemic, I would have to take time off of work to go in person to the office to apply for childcare assistance, go back multiple times if I was missing paperwork, and lose wages in the process. It’s amazing that families can apply for childcare assistance safely without having to expose their family to potential Covid-19 risks and without the potential of losing wages, “ said Karina Pizarro, parent and child care teacher with OLÉ.
“One of the best ways to help hard-working parents keep their jobs and stay in school is by providing help with the exorbitant costs of child care,” said Tim Davis with the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty. “ECECD’s new rules make it possible for more low-income parents to work or go to school while providing their children with a safe place to learn and grow. We hope other state agencies will follow its example and take a look at how they can remove barriers to participation. We thank Secretary Groginsky for her leadership and collaborative efforts with the community.”
ALBUQUERQUE—According to a new report, more investment in home visiting, child care assistance, cash assistance, and minimum wage enforcement would significantly improve New Mexico families’ stability and economic outlook. The report, “New Mexico’s Infant Toddler Agenda,” was authored by the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty and the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP).
“Every child should have the opportunity to succeed in life, yet nearly a third of New Mexico’s 70,000 infants and toddlers live in poverty. Across the board, state investments are too low in programs that address economic barriers and support opportunities for families with young children,” said Sovereign Hager, legal director at NMCLP. “Every family should have safe and affordable child care, sound parental support, and resources to pay for necessities. But there are huge gaps between what programs work for families and what our state funds.”
Children’s growth and development are shaped by early life experiences. Good health, empowered families, and positive early learning environments foster children’s physical, intellectual, and social-emotional development. Culturally and linguistically appropriate programs and policies that are developed in collaboration with local communities are also essential to their success.
Home visiting empowers parents
In New Mexico, home visiting services provide support, coaching, and resources for parents from trained professionals during pregnancy and in children’s earliest years. Home visiting improves children’s mental and physical health, supports school readiness, and helps keep children and families safe.
However, the report notes the lack of home visiting programs in New Mexico and that few programs are culturally and linguistically relevant to the state’s diverse communities. In New Mexico, an estimated 157,600 children—half of whom are infants and toddlers—were eligible for home visiting programs in 2017 but only approximately 5,000 slots were available in 2018.
The report recommends that New Mexico fully leverage Medicaid dollars for home visiting and expand its current pilot program to include all Medicaid-eligible families.
Child care assistance provides high-quality child care and early education opportunities
The state’s Child Care Assistance Program makes it possible for low-income parents to work or go to school while providing their children with a safe place to learn and grow. The report notes that when families have access to child care assistance, they are better able to access high quality child care and have more resources for basic needs. They also have far fewer child care related work disruptions.
Unfortunately, even after increases to the program’s budget this year, the vast majority of families in New Mexico face high out of pocket costs even when they get assistance. Eighty one percent of families who receive child care assistance in New Mexico had to pay a share of costs in 2017 compared to the national rate of 62%.
Data shows that too many families simply cannot afford to participate in the program. Enrollment falls for families earning between 25% and 50% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines—when New Mexico starts imposing unaffordable co-payments.
The report recommends New Mexico eliminate co-payments for families living below 100% FPG and cap out of pocket costs at affordable levels for other families.
Families also face a steep “cliff effect” when their incomes exceed the eligibility threshold for the program. In many cases, this leaves families much worse off than they were before an increase in wages.
In New Mexico, families can earn a maximum of 250% of the FPG (equivalent to $53,325 for a family of three in FY 2019) before becoming ineligible for assistance. The report recommends tiered eligibility policies to smooth the cliff effect by gradually reducing assistance as income rises.
Increasing and enforcing the minimum wage supports economically stable families
New Mexico’s minimum wage increase went into effect in January 2020. The report notes that an estimated 100,600 children will be helped by their parents’ increased wages.
However, workers can’t benefit from a minimum wage increase if the law isn’t enforced. Too many New Mexico workers are paid less than the minimum wage because employers violate the law. The New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions has a statutory obligation to enforce the law, but DWS is underfunded and overwhelmed by a backlog of over 1,800 wage complaints. One in five workers has been waiting for their case to be investigated or to be paid wages owed for over a year and a half. Some have been waiting as long as eight years.
The report recommends the state strategically and robustly enforce the law to maximize benefits to workers and their families.
Improving cash assistance to support economically stable families
Increased income during early childhood is associated with improved health, better school performance, and even increased earnings later in a child’s life. Even a small amount of additional income can be a stabilizing force, allowing parents to purchase diapers, groceries, or other household necessities.
Although many families with low incomes could benefit from cash assistance, which provides a temporary monthly benefit and work supports for parents, only a small percent in New Mexico qualify for help because of limited eligibility, ineffective work requirements, and time limits for children.
The assistance itself is minimal and does not provide enough for families to live on while seeking employment.
The report recommends New Mexico improve its cash assistance program by offering flexibility, exemptions from work requirements, and allowing children to receive benefits when parents become ineligible or reach time limits.
“Strong investments in programs that impact early childhood are proven to increase well being and economic opportunity for families, but too many of New Mexico’s families with infants and toddlers aren’t able to access programs that would help them the most,” said Hager. “Our state government has an obligation to fix this and must prioritize an agenda that focuses on opportunity for families with young children. This means adequate resources towards programs and services for families with young children, investment in culturally and linguistically relevant programming, and work across agencies to streamline and integrate eligibility and enrollment processes.”
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!
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.
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!
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 Fe. CYFD’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.
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 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!
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.”
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.
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.”
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.
Press conference announcing a lawsuit against CYFD for illegally denying eligible families child care assistance.
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
Wednesday, September 26 at 9:00 a.m.
Children Youth & Families Department, 3401 Pan American Fwy NE, Albuquerque, NM 87107
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.
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!