According to a study from the Economic Policy Institute, the average cost of child and infant care in New Mexico is approximately $8,000 per year, or about $667 per month. This expense accounts for anywhere from 10-17% of a typical New Mexican family’s income and often presents a huge financial burden for working families with young children. The state’s Children Youth and Families Department subsidizes child care for parents, grandparents, and legal guardians who are working, going to school, or in a job training program and have a gross income at or below 200% percent of the federal poverty level (FPL). However, recent changes to the program’s income requirement have threatened to curtail the number of families eligible for assistance.
Under the Martinez administration, CYFD reduced the program’s income eligibility to 150% FPL without any public hearing or public comment on the issue. The Center on Law and Poverty responded by filing a class-action lawsuit on behalf of families harmed by the change, which resulted in a settlement wherein the department agreed to continue using the 200% FPL benchmark. More recently, however, CYFD announced plans to lower the income eligibility to 160% FPL, this time using the proper administrative procedures to avoid the legal issues of the earlier lawsuit. The first public meeting on the rule change had been scheduled for July 8 but was postponed in a July 3 announcement from the department and Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham. This comes as good news for children and families in the state, particularly in light of the recent Kids Count survey ranking New Mexico 50th in the country for children’s overall well-being. Stating that universal child care assistance is her “unconditional goal,” Governor Lujan Grisham assured that her administration will concern themselves with expanding the program’s coverage and accessibility and that “anything less would be a disservice to the families and children of the state.”