Childcare assistance cuts raising concerns

CNJ staff photo: Sharna Johnson Clovis’ ABC Developmental Care Center Director Kisty Gartner said she is concerned about recent cuts to state childcare assistance and what it could mean down the road for working families who need help paying for childcare.

Sharna Johnson

Recent cuts in state childcare assistance money and the potential for more cuts have families and daycare providers on edge.

Under the child care assistance program, qualifying families receive daycare assistance on a sliding scale, ranging from full payment of cost by the government to partial payments.

Because of a $13.5 million budget shortfall caused by shortages in a federal fund that feeds the program, letters were mailed to 5,000 families state-wide Sept. 17. Recipients were told eligibility guidelines were being tightened and they would lose their childcare assistance Nov. 1, said Romaine Serna, spokeswoman for the Children, Youth and Families Division.

Last week, the governor moved to head off the cut by lowering the rate paid to childcare providers by 10 percent.

But Serna said that will probably only be enough to get the program through until January, when hopefully the Legislature can intervene and fix the shortfall.

No new families are being accepted right now, Serna said, explaining the program already has a waiting list of people who qualify and need assistance.

Ultimately the the question of what if anything can be done remains in the air until January, she said.

“We recognize that this has a huge impact on families and that is very concerning to us,” Serna said. “However the budget shortfall is (an issue) that we are forced to deal with.”

Kisty Gartner, director of ABC Developmental Care Center in Clovis, said more stringent income requirements are unrealistic, and cuts would strain both parents and the daycare companies they select.

Gartner said the 8 percent cut puts lot of pressure on daycares that haven’t seen an increase in payments from the state in 12 years but require more advanced training and experience more overhead costs — including raises in the minimum wage.

“For us to provide quality care like everybody wants, it’s nearing impossible,” she said. “I’m concerned over the care these child will get.”

Fees for a majority of the approximately 50 children at her center are partially or fully offset by the program, Gartner said, and the demographics are similar at larger daycare centers.

An even greater concern, she said, is the possibility somebody could be forced to quit a job or drop out of school because they can’t afford childcare.

“(These parents are) trying to better themselves … childcare assistance is actually a good (program). It’s better than parents not working.”

Under the tightened guidelines, Gartner said a family of four with two children making more than $1,837 a month before taxes will spend more than $800 for daycare, and would no longer qualify for assistance.

Single mother Kristy Whittlesey said that’s the dilemma she will face if her assistance is taken away.

A medical records clerk and mother of three, Whittlesey said she received a letter that said she was being dropped from the program.

“I was freaking out,”said Whittlesey, who said half of her monthly income goes to childcare for her 3-year-old, and she receives no child support. “Without the childcare assistance, I really don’t know how I would be able to work.”

Serna said 25,000 New Mexico families benefit from the program.