New Mexico moves to limit eligibility for child care aid
SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — New Mexico’s child welfare department is proposing to tighten income requirements for families to begin receiving child care assistance, saying the agency did not get the legislative funding needed to keep a higher limit in place.
A public hearing is set for July 8 in Santa Fe to discuss the Children, Youth and Families Department’s proposal. It would allow for families with incomes at or below 160% of the federal poverty level — or roughly $41,200 per year for a family of four — to apply for aid for child care and preschool costs.
The income threshold for families to become eligible for aid recently became 200% of the federal poverty level after the agency agreed as part of a class-action lawsuit to raise the amount. Under the settlement agreement, the agency must hold public hearings before changing income requirements.
“At the end of the day, at the end of the legislative session, we didn’t get the funding we needed,” Tripp Stelnicki, a spokesman for Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, told the Santa Fe New Mexican.
Stelnicki said Lujan Grisham’s administration would push again for more money for the aid program.
CYFD spokesman Charlie Pabst Moore called the 160% threshold proposal a “starting point” for negotiating as it revises child care regulations.
More than a quarter of New Mexico’s children, compared to less than a fifth nationally, live at or below the federal poverty line, according to U.S. Census figures. And the state’s median household income of nearly $47,000 falls well below the national figure of about $60,000.
Parents last year sued CYFD under now-former Gov. Susana Martinez, a Republican, over the aid program. Their complaint included multiple accusations, including that the agency denied aid to families without providing proper notice or establishing proper policy for lower income requirements.
The Martinez administration had begun denying child care and preschool assistance to families with incomes above 150% of the poverty line, according to the lawsuit.
The agency also faced accusations of failing to disclose how copayments were calculated while imposing copayments that exceeded federal guidelines.
When the lawsuit settlement was made public last month, CYFD Cabinet Secretary Brian Blalock praised the agreement as a “step in the right direction” for increasing transparency and accountability.
CYFD Chief Council Kate Girard praised the agreement, saying it would allow more children and families access to affordable child care.
Under the proposed policy changes for income requirements, the families applying for eligibility for the program would have to make 160% or less of the federal poverty level. Families already enrolled in the child care aid program could continue to keep their benefits until their income surpassed 200%.
Maria Griego, a supervising attorney with the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty, expressed disappointment in the proposed income cap, though she agreed that a legislative funding shortfall for the program was the reason.
“We were really disappointed to see eligibility would be lowered,” Griego said.
Her nonprofit represented parents and the organization Olé, which focuses on issues of working families, in the suit against CYFD.