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Group targets lack of funding to help pay for costly child care

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Using personal experiences and federal think tank data, state Sen. Linda Lopez, D-Albuquerque, and a group of parents, child care workers and child care facility operators gathered Thursday to call attention to the need for more money to help pay for child care in New Mexico.

The average annual cost of placing a kid in child care in New Mexico, depending on the age of the child, can be between $7,000 and $8,000 – comparable to in-state tuition and fees for a full-time student at the University of New Mexico, they said.

Sabryna Garcia, a parent who works at the Teddy Bear Pre-School and Child Care center on Second Street, where the news conference was held, said half of her paycheck each month goes toward child care, and that’s with her working 40 hours a week.

Having just one child in day care costs 17 percent of a low-wage family’s income, said Guillermo Gonzales, owner of La Escuelita Learning Center in Los Ranchos. Having two kids in child care – say an infant and a 4-year-old – would require that a typical New Mexico family spend more than 32 percent of their household income on such services, he said.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services guidelines say that child care is considered affordable if it costs no more than 10 percent of a family’s income. By this standard, less than 33 percent of New Mexico families can afford such care, he said.

La Escuelita, like many early childhood facilities, gets the bulk of its funding from the state Children, Youth and Families Department, which pays $500 to $700 per child, per month, depending on the child’s age and the quality rating of the child care center.

CYFD sets the reimbursement rate, which includes breakfast, lunch and snacks, and sometimes dinner, depending on the hours of the facility, Gonzales said. Although La Escuelita is a for-profit business, of the 42 kids enrolled there, only 12 are private pay and five of them are there on a part-time after-school plan. Enrollment for a full-time private pay child is $150 a week, while the rate for part-time kids is $85 a week.

Only one-third of children eligible for child care assistance in the state are getting it and the remainder, about 35,000 kids, are not receiving assistance, said CYFC spokesman Henry Varela. Those families, for one reason or another, have not applied or perhaps didn’t know it was available to them. Families who want to find out if they qualify, he said, should call 1-800-832-1321.

Lopez, a long-time proponent of early childhood education, said she expects several bills to deal with the problem will be introduced in the next 60-day legislative session, something that could not be addressed in the recent 30-day short session.