After initial bump, CYFD proposes tighter eligibility for child care help

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When NM In Depth reported on a settlement earlier this month in a lawsuit against the Children Youth and Families Department over its policies on child care assistance, a big money question was left hanging.

CYFD agreed to temporarily bump initial eligibility for child care subsidies to families earning up to 200% of the federal poverty level, from 150%, but the department would need supplementary funding if it was going to keep it at that level.

Part of the settlement with OLÉ and the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty also said the department needed to come up with new eligibility rules within 90 days, and give the public a chance to weigh in. This week the department posted those proposed changes — taking eligibility to apply for assistance to just 160% of the federal poverty level. Those who already have the benefit would continue to keep it until they reach 200% of FPL.

Children Youth and Families Secretary Brian Blalock

In early May, CYFD spokesman Charlie Moore-Pabst said the state would need to find more funding, lower eligibility or a combination of both, with Secretary Brian Blalock aiming to keep the level as close to 200% as possible.

A cash infusion will not be forthcoming. Moore-Pabst said Thursday the department set initial entry for child care benefits at 160% of the federal poverty level to stay within current funding approved by the Legislature.

“The department is going to continue to work with legislators to get as much funding as we can to help working families,” he said via email.

As to lawmakers, their enthusiasm for increased child care assistance has been notably lower than for the popular PreK early education program. New Mexico PreK got an increase of 30% in next year’s budget, while home visiting and child care assistance got a more modest 7% increase. And a proposal during the 2019 legislative session to put a 200% eligibility level into law, limit copays and ease a benefit “cliff effect” for working parents who get a modest raise was dead on arrival. Fiscal analysts estimated the proposal would cost the state $40 million per year.

There will be a public hearing on the new eligibility rules on July 8 in Santa Fe.

“The prior administration changed the rate without due process, and we are just beginning that process and encourage public participation,” he said.

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