On August 1, New Mexico will expand early child care assistance to allow a family of four with a nearly $93,000 yearly income eligible for assistance from the state, among other early childcare changes. Some have said the expansions to early childcare could empower women in New Mexico. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and Early Childhood Education and Care Department Secretary Elizabeth Groginsky announced earlier this month that, through funding from the federal American Rescue Plan, the state will expand who qualifies for early child care assistance. Micah McCoy, ECECD communications director, told NM Political Report that the income requirement for state assistance for early childcare is currently 200 percent of the federal poverty level. For a family of four, that equals about $53,000 a year, he said.
For the next two years, New Mexico will raise the income eligibility for childcare assistance from 200 percent of the federal poverty level to 350 percent of the federal poverty level with a phase out at 400 percent of the federal poverty level, officials announced Thursday. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, Early Childcare Education and Care Department Secretary Elizabeth Groginsky, Lt. Gov. Howie Morales and state Sen. Michael Padilla spoke during a press conference Thursday to announce the change. The press conference was also part of a one-year anniversary celebration for ECECD, which is an agency that began under the Lujan Grisham administration to improve early childcare education. The press conference was held in Santa Fe and online. The department will use emergency funds available through the federal American Rescue Plan to increase the assistance starting August 1.
The state will waive parent co-payments for child care for September and October. The Early Childhood Education and Care Department (ECECD) announced Wednesday that it will cover the revenue child care programs would have received from the parent co-payments and the state will include this amount in its regular monthly reimbursement checks. The ECECD has offered additional initiatives during the pandemic to support early child care, though some critics have said the efforts did not go far enough. Related: Childcare workers with COVID-19 can get state-funded insurance
The state has also offered free child care to essential workers and provided wage incentives to more than 3,100 early child care workers, according to the news release. The ECECD has also awarded Child Care Recovery and Stabilization grants to about 500 licensed child care facilities and partnered with other agencies to help connect families who need child care with providers who offer it during the COVID-19 pandemic.
State workers would see a drop in their pay raises for fiscal year 2021 and spending for most agencies would be cut significantly under the draft budget overhaul lawmakers began debating Wednesday. Whittling a record $7.6 billion budget to $7.34 billion — and filling wide spending gaps with cash reserves, pandemic-related aid from the federal government and other measures — is no small task for the New Mexico Legislature as it convenes Thursday for a special session to address a steep decline in projected revenues. Members of the state House and Senate finance committees met Wednesday to review the plan, which would slash higher education spending by 6 percent — the biggest cut for any single agency — and reduce the 4 percent pay raises for state workers, approved earlier this year, to 1.5 percent for those who earn less than $40,000 a year and 0.5 percent for higher earners. Funding for the new Early Childhood Education and Care Department, set to take over all services for young children July 1, would be cut by $3.3 million; the spaceport would lose $600,000; and $17 million would be slashed from the Medicaid program. Lawmakers, however, hope to shift money from the Tobacco Settlement Permanent Fund to fill the Medicaid gap.
The state announced that uninsured childcare workers who test positive for COVID-19 will be able to enroll in a state insurance plan during the public health emergency. Uninsured early childcare workers and their families will be able to enroll in New Mexico Medical Insurance Pool (NMMIP), the state’s high-risk pool, during the public health emergency if they or their family members test positive to COVID-19, a type of coronavirus. The state will pay the premiums, according to the statement. Under emergency rules issued by the Superintendent of Insurance, deductibles and copayments are also waived for treatment of COVID-19, influenza and pneumonia through NMMIP. This new rule will apply to all childcare workers and their immediate family members who test positive regardless of income or immigration status, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said in the statement.
The state’s message that childcare centers in New Mexico should remain open while everyone else is encouraged to stay home is the wrong message, say some early childcare educators. The state has asked early childcare centers to stay open while public schools are closed and to accept more children by loosening regulations. But at the same time, the state is encouraging businesses to rely on remote workers and is encouraging the public to limit itself to gatherings of no more than 100 people. President Donald Trump said Monday that the public should not gather in groups of more than 10. Related: State offers assistance to families and child care providers during emergency
According to a state report, 85.5 percent of early childcare workers are women and 55.1 percent identify as Latina or Hispanic.
Two state agencies are providing child care assistance to parents who need help during the coronavirus pandemic. The Children, Youth and Families Department (CYFD) and the Early Childhood Education and Care Department (ECECD) made changes to the state’s early childhood policies in response to Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s public health emergency declaration due to the spread of COVID-19, a type of coronavirus. The state is encouraging families to stay home as much as possible during the global pandemic. But if families need assistance with childcare during the public health emergency, the state has made changes to offer assistance. The state is also offering various forms of assistance to child care providers to encourage them to stay open during this time of crisis.
Hed: Reproductive justice advocates say abortion ban repeal ‘next year’
Many reproductive justice advocates said their biggest disappointment of the 2020 legislative session is that the 1969 New Mexico law banning abortion is still on the books. But some in the Respect NM Women Coalition, a group of reproductive justice advocates and organizations, say ‘next year.’
“We’re looking forward to repealing the state’s archaic 1969 abortion ban in 2021,” said Joan Lamunyon Sanford, executive director of NM Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice. The nonprofit she leads is part of the coalition. While the law is still on the books, it is not currently enforceable because of the landmark Roe v. Wade U.S. Supreme Court decision. The law is worrisome for many because the U.S. Supreme Court will hear a Louisiana law, June Medical Services v. Russo (formerly June Medical Services v. Gee) requiring abortion clinics in that state to be affiliated with a hospital and have admitting privileges.
Marisol Baird said her young children, 17-month-old Norah and 4-year-old Liam, don’t yet understand the significance of a bill the governor signed into law during a news conference the family attended Tuesday at the state Capitol. “Someday they will see the results pay off,” Baird said of House Bill 83, which establishes an endowment to help fund early childhood programs throughout New Mexico. “And hopefully for their children, it will be even better.” Surrounded by Cabinet secretaries, lawmakers, parents and kids as she put her signature on the new Early Childhood Trust Fund, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said, “This is a victory for families and children.” The fund will kick off with an appropriation of $320 million in fiscal year 2021 and will be sustained in future years by oil and gas-related revenue sources.
The full state Senate approved legislation Wednesday that would create a new revenue stream for early childhood programs.
By a vote of 40-0, senators passed Senate Bill 3, sponsored by Sen. John Arthur Smith and Rep. Doreen Gallegos. The legislation calls for an appropriation of $320 million to start a new Early Childhood Education and Care Fund that would draw on two other funding sources in future years. The proposal aims to help the state leverage unprecedented oil revenue to boost spending on early childhood education, which Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has emphasized since taking office, without causing volatility in the general fund. “This gives us a reliable revenue stream,” Smith, D-Deming, said on the Senate floor. “If you have only hills and valleys, you’re not talking about a plan, you’re talking about a political deal.”
Smith, who is chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, also thanked the windfall from the oil boom in the Permian Basin for giving the state the money to create the new fund. “We still would have been waiting except for the generous returns of oil and gas that have allowed us to do this,” he said.