SANTA FE – A judge has approved a legal settlement aimed at providing more uniform and predictable access to childcare-assistance subsidies overseen by the New Mexico Children, Youth and Families Department, plaintiffs to the original lawsuit announced Monday.
The order from state District Judge Matthew Wilson sets out new requirements for New Mexico to disclose how it decides on eligibility and the share of child care costs that an enrolled family must pay.
The decision also sustains the threshold for childcare assistance eligibility at twice the federal poverty line – currently equal to just over $50,000 for a family of four.
At an annual cost of about $100 million, more than 19,000 children ages 13 and under currently receive subsidies for childcare while their parents study, work or transition between jobs under a childcare assistance program run by Children, Youth and Families.
A lawsuit filed last year on behalf of childcare assistance recipients and the advocacy group OLÉ alleged that assistance and copayment rates were set arbitrarily by the state agency without advising parents of their rights to appeal.
Maria Griego, a supervising attorney for the Center on Law and Poverty that represented plaintiffs, said families were discouraged from applying for childcare assistance by a lack of reliable information about eligibility and co-payments under the administration of former Gov. Susana Martinez, who left office at the end of 2018.
“Not having that information out there and transparent, it discourages families from applying,” she said. “These early years are really important developmentally for children. It’s really important to make sure that kids are in good hands.”
Griego says eligibility was reduced to households at or below 150% of the federal poverty line before the lawsuit was filed in September.
The Children, Youth and Families Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the settlement.
The agreement requires that the agency post detailed explanations of co-payment rates on its website within seven days. The agency has 90 days to propose new regulations for public comment that clarify eligibility requirements, calculations for cost sharing, the appeals procedure for those denied benefits and information about free legal services.
This story has been corrected to fix the spelling of a name to Griego.