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.

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