Senators on the Finance Committee questioned the new head of the Children, Youth and Families Department on funding issues, including some money they felt should have been spent on childcare issues.
Sen. Howie Morales, D-Silver City, in particular questioned CYFD’s use of federal funding.
“We cannot leave money on the table when it comes to something that is as important as our children,” Morales told secretary-designate Monique Jacobson.
He asked Jacobson about what he said was up to $21 million had been reverted to the federal government. Of that, about $6 million was in Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, also known as TANF, funding and another $16 million was in a childcare block grant.
CYFD officials explained to the committee that the block grant funding was not reverted back to the federal government, but was not “drawn down,” or was available from the federal government but not requested by New Mexico.
“It’s not for a lack of being incredibly smart or working very hard why these things are happening,” Jacobson said.
“They indicated to us that we’ve never lost these funds, that they’ve just never been drawn down which is a positive,” Morales told New Mexico Political Report.
Sen. Carlos Cisneros, D-Questa, asked Jacobson if CYFD was doing enough to seek federal funds to address what many have said is a system that needs repair in New Mexico.
Jacobson said that in going after federal funding, the department had to “Make sure we do not have money that we’re not prepared to spend.”
Sen. Nancy Rodriguez, D-Santa Fe, had some questions about that answer, and said this was in light of 900 children on a waiting list for CYFD childcare services.
“Why can’t you use [the funds]?” Rodriguez asked Jacobson. “There is plenty of need.”
Jacobson said that a better answer would have been that CYFD needs to make sure “we grow at a proper rate” and still keep the quality of service at a high level.
CYFD was under pressure during last year’s legislative session after returning $6.6 million in funds to the general fund in the 2013 budget year.
A CYFD spokesman defended the unused funds to KOB last month.
CYFD needs more money, but the agency reverted $6 million in 2013. A spokesperson says it’s not that they just didn’t spend it; he chalks it up to contractors not asking for reimbursements and jobs not being filled, something CYFD has been trying to change through pay increases and HR programs.
Morales said that while investigation into child abuses was surely needed, more should be done before investigation is needed.
“I do get concerned when we have so much [in funding] that’s going to be put into the investigation, which is important,” Morales told New Mexico Political Report. “We need to investigate child abuse but we also have to be proactive and see what we can do to prevent it to begin with.”
Gov. Susana Martinez has asked for $10 million more funding for investigations into child abuse.
Sen. Sue Wilson Beffort, R-Sandia Park, told Jacobson that she hopes CYFD will look into helping private childcare facilities, which she feels have been underutilized by CYFD.
Senate Finance Committee chairman John Arthur Smith, D-Deming, had some advice for Jacobson.
“I just want to caution you to step back form time to time and remind yourself that,” Smith said. “‘Yes we want action quickly’ but this is a marathon, not a sprint.”
Jacobson’s time in the committee was less stressful than her predecessor Yolanda Berumen-Deines in front of the same committee a year before.
Morale said that Jacobson handled her first session in front of the Senate Finance Committee in her new capacity well.
“She understands the legislature and she understands the committee process and the budgetary discussions,” Morales said after the CYFD presentation. “She showed that, as she’s done in her last role.
Jacobson previously was the secretary of the state Tourism Department.