Bill aims to ex­pand child care el­i­gi­bil­ity as par­ent pay rises

Many strug­gling New Mex­ico fam­i­lies lose ben­e­fits on road to fi­nan­cial se­cu­rity

Santa Fe New Mexican - - LEARNING - By Sylvia Ul­loa New Mex­ico In Depth

Most govern­ment safety net pro­grams like wel­fare, Med­i­caid and food stamps have a “cliff ef­fect” — when some­one gets a pay raise that makes them in­el­i­gi­ble for fi­nan­cial help from the govern­ment, caus­ing them to lose ben­e­fits that are more valu­able than the salary bump.

Ad­vo­cates for work­ing fam­i­lies in New Mex­ico are hop­ing to elim­i­nate a fi­nan­cial cliff in child care as­sis­tance and in­stead cre­ate a glide path for par­ents who are work­ing to­ward fi­nan­cial se­cu­rity.

New Mex­ico Voices for Chil­dren, an Al­bu­querque-based non­profit child ad­vo­cacy or­ga­ni­za­tion, said its data show that 9 out of 10 peo­ple who get help with child care costs from the state Chil­dren, Youth and Fam­i­lies Depart­ment are sin­gle par­ents with two kids. Earn­ing one dol­lar more than $40,840 would cost a fam­ily of three more than $10,000 in child care as­sis­tance and plunge them back into poverty.

“A lot of lower-mid­dle-in­come fam­i­lies that are try­ing to gain a foothold to sus­tain­ing them­selves, once they don’t have ac­cess to those pro­grams, they’re the ones who suf­fer tremen­dously be­cause they’re kind of caught in be­tween,” said Armelle Casau, a pol­icy an­a­lyst and re­searcher at Voices for Chil­dren who wrote a re­port on the cliff ef­fect.

“They’re not poor enough to re­ceive a lot of those pro­grams,” Casau said, “but they’re not rich enough to be eco­nom­i­cally se­cure. So it’s those fam­i­lies that we need to pro­vide a lit­tle bit of con­tin­u­ing sup­ports.”

That’s where House Bill 160 comes in. It would ease a sharp drop off and push the loss of child care as­sis­tance closer to when fam­i­lies are more eco­nom­i­cally se­cure.

Par­ents would con­trib­ute higher co­pays as they made more money, but they wouldn’t lose the help al­to­gether.

Child care from a li­censed cen­ter in New Mex­ico runs about $7,000 a year per child — more than most of the state’s uni­ver­si­ties.

“It’s so nec­es­sary,” Rep. Re­becca Dow, R-Truth or Con­se­quences, said of the bill.

Dow runs Ap­pleTree Ed­u­ca­tional Cen­ter, a non­profit child care and New Mex­ico PreK provider in Sierra County.

She wor­ries that pro­pos­als for in­creas­ing the state min­i­mum wage might hurt two-par­ent house­holds. “The very in­tent of help­ing them, if we don’t change the el­i­gi­bil­ity for child care as­sis­tance,” she said, “is go­ing to harm them. They’ll have less dis­pos­able in­come.”

HB 160 would raise the el­i­gi­bil­ity for child care sub­si­dies from 150 per­cent of the fed­eral poverty level to 200 per­cent, and par­ents could keep the sub­sidy, with higher co­pays, un­til their in­come reached 300 per­cent of the fed­eral poverty level — $63,990 for a fam­ily of three and $74,250 for a fam­ily of four.

The pro­posal also would help ease the fi­nan­cial bur­den for New Mex­ico’s poor­est fam­i­lies by elim­i­nat­ing the co­pay al­to­gether for par­ents who earn less than 100 per­cent of the fed­eral poverty level.

It’s a mod­est sav­ings, prob­a­bly about $300 a year for a sin­gle mom with one child who lives at 50 per­cent of the poverty level, Casau es­ti­mated.

“When you’re liv­ing in deep poverty, $300 is a lot of food on the ta­ble, and it helps pay one more elec­tric­ity bill,” said Casau. “Even though it’s not a lot for the poor­est of the poor, the fact that we are hav­ing co­pays for fam­i­lies that are in deep poverty is some­thing that is un­con­scionable.”

Her re­port found that 28 states have lower co­pays than New Mex­ico for a fam­ily of three at 100 per­cent of poverty level, and 19 states have lower co­pays for a fam­ily of three at 150 per­cent of FPL.

The bill adds $40 mil­lion to the CYFD bud­get to pay for the changes, though there is some un­cer­tainty over how much it will cost to al­low par­ents to keep re­ceiv­ing child care as­sis­tance above the 200 per­cent of poverty thresh­old, ac­cord­ing to a fis­cal im­pact re­port for the bill.

Child care as­sis­tance is paid through a com­bi­na­tion of state and fed­eral funds, with New Mex­ico pay­ing a lit­tle more than a third of the cost.

The bill is cur­rently wait­ing for its first hear­ing by the House Health and Hu­man Ser­vices Com­mit­tee.

NEW MEX­ICO IN DEPTH

Preschool teacher Brit­tany Polanco does an eval­u­a­tion of a stu­dent at Al­pha School in Las Cruces for the New Mex­ico PreK pro­gram.

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