Settlement agreement ensures child care assistance is more accessible to NM families

ALBUQUERQUE—Today, the New Mexico Early Childhood Education and Care Department and several New Mexican parents and OLÉ—a non-profit, grassroots member organization of working families—announced that they have come to a settlement agreement that will expand access to the state’s child care assistance program and require it to be more responsive to parents’ needs. The parents and OLÉ are represented by the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty.                                  

The settlement agreement resolves a 2018 lawsuit filed during the previous administration that alleged the New Mexico Children Youth and Families Department, which then housed child care assistance services, was denying child care assistance to eligible families.      

CYFD and plaintiffs began the process of addressing the issues raised in the lawsuit and entered into an initial settlement agreement in spring 2019. After Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham and the New Mexico State Legislature created the Early Childhood Education and Care Department in 2019, the Child Care Services Bureau was consolidated along with all other early childhood programs into the new department. ECECD became the responding agency to the lawsuit following the department’s official launch in July 2020 and has committed to working with NMCLP and OLÉ to fully address the issues identified in families’ lawsuit.

“This settlement reflects the child care system that parents are building with Secretary Groginsky for all New Mexicans,” said Alma Martell, a parent leader from OLÉ.  “It makes an early education more affordable to more parents and makes the process of getting state assistance to pay for preschool much easier, kinder, and more like what we expect of a high-quality early education system.”

“It’s clear that Secretary Groginsky and the department are committed to expanding access and making child care assistance work for New Mexican families,” said Tim Davis, an attorney at the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty. “The department has sought out and listened carefully to parents, and the improvements to the program reflect that collaboration and the reality of working families. The department has made changes that are truly groundbreaking and acknowledge that quality affordable child care is a bridge to opportunity for families and their children.” 

“ECECD is committed to ensuring that every eligible family in New Mexico can receive child care assistance in a fair, equitable, and transparent manner,” said ECECD Secretary Elizabeth Groginsky. “Access to high quality early childhood education is critical to the development of our young children and vital to the economic stability of our families. In the nine months since our department officially launched, we have worked to change regulations to make it easier for families to apply for assistance, waived all parent co-pays until July 2022, and continue to seek ways to expand eligibility for child care assistance for families in our state.” 

The terms outlined in the settlement agreement include:

  • Maintaining eligibility for families with incomes at or below 250% of the federal poverty level unless the department reduces eligibility through a rulemaking process with public input.
  • By August 2021, or sooner, ECECD will ensure that participating families know when and why a change is made to their child care assistance case. Notices will also clearly explain why child care assistance is denied or terminated and will provide information on how to appeal the decision. ECECD has already taken major steps to comply with this requirement.
  • By December 31, 2021, ECECD will make the final updates to its child care assistance regulations so families receive correct information about their benefits during the application process, which will increase access to child care with minimal administrative burdens.
  • ECECD will train all staff on the changes and the changes to the notices, which has already begun and will continue as ECECD fulfills its obligations under the settlement.
  • For three years, ECECD will hold meetings with participating families and follow up meetings with the plaintiffs to discuss the feedback, and any potential remedial next steps.     
  • ECECD will not be required to pay any attorney fees, so long as it remains compliant with the terms of the settlement.

The settlement agreement builds upon other recent important changes that ECECD made to the child care assistance program that expand access, including giving benefits to parents looking for work, streamlining income determinations, increasing eligibility to families with incomes up to 250% of the federal poverty level, ending the exclusion of graduate students, and no longer forcing parents to pursue child support from an absent parent in order to qualify for assistance.

Currently one-in-three New Mexican families qualify for free or reduced child care tuition through ECECD’s child care assistance services. Families can learn about eligibility and apply for assistance at: https://eligibility.ececd.state.nm.us/eligibility/public/home.page?dswid=-4195

The settlement agreement can be found here: http://nmpovertylaw.org/torres-v-jacobson-proposed-second-amended-stipulated-order-2021-04-22/

Trump cuts to food assistance violate sovereignty of Native American Nations

By Christy Chapman, Native American Budget and Policy Institute and Tim Davis, New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty

No one should go without access to food in the United States. However, in the middle of a global pandemic when thousands of people are losing their jobs everyday, the Trump administration continues to pursue cuts to food assistance for more than 27,255 New Mexicans and 755,000 low-income adults nationwide by limiting unemployed adults to just three months of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) food assistance in a three year period.  

There are 23 sovereign nations in the territorial boundaries of New Mexico whose communities will be harmed by this rule. Yet, the federal government failed to consult these sovereign nations, or any others, on the proposed rule that would disproportionately impact Native communities and disrespects the sovereignty of Native governments. 

The Native American Budget and Policy Institute and New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty argue in an amicus brief that as a result the rule is illegal and should be blocked. 

Federal law has long limited SNAP for unemployed adults without children. However, states have flexibility to request waivers for areas with high unemployment and, if unemployment was high state-wide, the whole state could be waived from the time limit. The new rule would limit this flexibility and make it more difficult to obtain waivers for areas of high unemployment including sovereign Native American nations.  

The rule would disproportionately impact several Native American communities, where historically, the unemployment rate can be greater than 50%. In small and rural communities, the only job opportunities may be in the education, health, or government sector. 

The Trump administration ignored written comments against the rule documenting the significant harm it would cause American Indian/Alaskan Native communities. This violates the trust responsibility between the federal government and Native American Nations created by treaties when these Nations ceded large portions of their aboriginal lands to the United States in return for the right to self-government with reserved lands. 

The colonial land seizures restricted access to food, income and agriculture caused widespread food insecurity that persists today. Historic and ongoing systemic inequalities cause many Native American communities to be without the infrastructure and economic development opportunities for adequate employment for all its members. 

A federal court has temporarily stopped the rule and could permanently block it. Congress should also stop the rule and has already suspended its implementation during the public health emergency. 

Pueblos, Tribes, and Nations are in the best position to determine public policy within their territorial boundaries and for their members. In this time of racial reckoning and as the COVID-19 crisis exposes long standing systemic inequalities in New Mexico, the federal government must fulfill its trust responsibility and fully recognize the sovereignty of Native American nations. Under no circumstances should the federal government take food assistance away from people who can’t find work.

ACTION ALERT- Stop Trump’s attack on food assistance!

Federal food assistance was created to increase nutrition levels and eliminate hunger. However, a new rule proposed by the Trump administration threatens food assistance for more than 27,000 New Mexicans and 755,000 low income adults nationwide.

Federal law already requires that states limit 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.

Now the Trump administration has proposed to make the time limits even harsher with a rule that would prevent states from waiving these draconian time limits in areas with too few jobs.

Please tell the Trump administration to abandon this unfair rule!

New Mexico has implemented a statewide waiver of the time limits for decades because our unemployment levels have been more than 20 percent above the national average.

New Mexico has some of the highest rates of food insecurity in the United States, and SNAP has been a critical tool in addressing hunger. But counties like Catron, Cibola, McKinley, Mora, Sierra, Taos, and Torrance—with unemployment rates over seven percent—would likely no longer qualify for a waiver. The same would be true for most Native American communities in the state.

Protect food security in New Mexico and the nation by submitting your public comment! Deadline: April 2, 2019.

Submit your comment here: https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2019/02/01/2018-28059/supplemental-nutrition-assis

Below is some content to include in your comment. To maximize its impact, make sure your comment has at least one third original text. 

Food for the hungry shouldn’t have a time limit!

  • This rule will only increase hunger. The adults who would be affected by the new rule 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 average monthly income of about 17 percent of the poverty line.
  • There is no evidence that the rule increases employment or earnings, but data from states that implemented the time limit, show that the vast majority of adults simply lost SNAP benefits without finding employment.
  • Food banks and charities cannot fill the need. Roadrunner Food Bank reports that they have increased their distribution of food by 70 percent over the last ten years, but it is still not enough.
  • Losing SNAP hurts grocers and our local economies. 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.
  • New Mexico could lose more than $5.5 million in economic activity because SNAP dollars have a multiplier effect. $1.7 dollars is generated for every SNAP dollar spent.
  • Losing SNAP will mean an increase in public 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 per year.
  • The rule sidesteps Congress, which rejected these changes in the 2018 farm bill.
  • The rule is costly and difficult for New Mexico to administer. Governor Martinez attempted to implement these requirements despite New Mexico’s high unemployment. The federal court found that the state could not implement the requirements without terminating assistance to eligible adults.

More information about SNAP in New Mexico:
https://www.cbpp.org/research/food-assistance/a-closer-look-at-who-benefits-from-snap-state-by-state-fact-sheets#New_Mexico