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State faring well in child care assistance

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — With less than one fifth of New Mexico families eligible for child care assistance actually receiving it, the state still is doing better in providing access than most others.

That’s according to the just released 2016 New Mexico Child Care Data Report from the state Children, Youth and Families Department. The report was compiled by the University of New Mexico Center of Education Policy Research.

CYFD was under no mandate or obligation to produce the report but “did it because there’s been an increased emphasis on early childhood services in New Mexico, and it’s good practice to look at how they’re performing,” CYFD Cabinet Secretary Monique Jacobson told the Journal on Tuesday.

“Child care is one of the greatest tools we have to combat child abuse as well as the underlying issues that lead to child abuse,” she said.

The data report highlighted a 2016 policy brief from the Washington, D.C,-based Center for Law and Social Policy, or CLASP, that showed an estimated 18 percent of children eligible for child care assistance in New Mexico are receiving it, compared to just 13 percent of eligible families nationwide. “This ranked New Mexico among the top 10 states for access,” CLASP concluded.

The organization also said that at 20 percent, New Mexico serves a higher percentage of eligible Hispanic children, compared to just 8 percent nationally, making New Mexico first in the nation in access to child care assistance to this demographic.

A spokesman for CYFD said CLASP was basing its calculations on families living at 175 percent of the federal poverty level. New Mexico, however, bases its calculations on 150 percent of the federal poverty level, which raises the percentage of eligible families who are receiving child care assistance to 30 percent.

New Mexico’s Child Care Assistance program served 27,589 unique children in 2016, and about 18,000 daily, the data report said.

“Another focus is in continuing to balance access and quality” by providing the incentive of greater reimbursement fees to child care centers that deliver higher quality child care, Jacobson said.

From fiscal year 2011 to fiscal year 2017, child care assistance increased from $82.2 million to $100.2 million. However there’s no indication that money is trickling down to workers in child care centers, where the turnover rate is 31 percent annually.

According to the data report, the median hourly wage of a child care worker in New Mexico is $9.10, a 4 percent decrease since 2010. That translates to an annual gross income of $18,928, and that’s assuming “a child care provider worked full time, every week of the year.”

Child care assistance is particularly important in a poor state like New Mexico, where it represents a significant portion of monthly expenses – 38 percent in single parent families. The data report estimates that the average annual cost of placing an infant in a center-based child care facility is $7,942, while average annual tuition and fees at a public university is $6,190.

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