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PullTogether funds better spent on helping families

Last Monday, Children, Youth and Families Department Secretary Monique Jacobson introduced PullTogether, an advertising campaign intended to inform the public about CYFD’s services. The initiative, which will be advertised through posters, pamphlets, television and radio ads and a website, will cost CYFD $2.7 million, money which will be funneled away from childcare assistance, labeled as “unspent funds.”

With New Mexico ranked 49th in child well-being and 750 families on the waiting list for childcare assistance, that money would be better spent on actually helping families access quality childcare as opposed to an expensive advertising campaign.

While Jacobson recognizes “child care assistance allows parents to go to school or retain a job and not have to worry about where their child is,” her department has made the process of applying convoluted, difficult and time-consuming.

While federal guidelines suggest 12-month contracts, CYFD (at best) gives six-month contracts and, in the case of many parents, will give shorter contracts — in some cases, 3 days’ worth of assistance — forcing parents to go back to the CYFD office to reapply and miss more work or school. Oftentimes, parents give up on the process and find alternate solutions that are not always safe but, in moments of desperation, are the only solution.

Many parents seeking childcare assistance from CYFD are also survivors of domestic violence who have left their abuser. While CYFD regulations clearly state that parents can waive the requirement to sue for child support, caseworkers routinely force parents to apply for child support before approving childcare contracts.

Suing for child support means that survivors of domestic violence have to make contact with their abusers and although Jacobson has repeatedly been made aware of this widespread problem, CYFD caseworkers continue this harmful practice.

In October and November of 2015, numerous parents testified in front of the Legislative Health and Human Services Committee to highlight these issues. Jacobson agreed to rectify this matter by including a section on the childcare assistance application that would allow parents to identify themselves as survivors of domestic violence.

As recently as last week, applications at the Albuquerque CYFD office have not been updated, despite Jacobson’s commitment to do so.

By now, the dismal statistics about child wellbeing in New Mexico are well etched in the minds of anyone working toward improving the lives of children and families. While Gov. Susana Martinez praises PullTogether – and highlights her commitment to children – she conveniently ignores the factors that lead to New Mexico being second-to-last for child wellbeing.

Unfortunately, Martinez would rather focus on “all crime all the time” bills that do not address poverty, unemployment, food insecurity and access to early education. Rather than support an advertising campaign, Martinez would show stronger leadership by enacting policies that help families — and boost New Mexico’s economy.

To be sure, making CYFD more user-friendly and accessible is an important aspect of making New Mexico the “best place to be a kid,” but it should not be the focus of CYFD’s work, nor should it be attempted through a $2.7 million ad campaign.

While Jacobson has an extensive background in marketing and wants to put those skills to good use, PullTogether is not the way to ensure families are accessing childcare assistance. Creating a safe, welcoming environment at CYFD, approving 12-month contracts for childcare assistance and protecting survivors of domestic violence are sure ways to ensure a better future for New Mexico’s children.

Without solving the internal problems that plague CYFD, PullTogether will just be another ad campaign that does little more than waste 2.7 million taxpayer dollars – money that should go to the very people who need it: working families.